Published on Academy of American Poets (

Chorus of the Mothers-Griot

for Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-1784)

                                [amnesiac wood]

[nostrils of girls]	        [who was bought]	        [uncle’s hand]
[guts on the air]	        [who was sold]		[defeated man]
[history’s charnel]	        [i say] 	                [trader’s silver]

                                [sailing knot to knot]

[naked in the corner]	[door of no return]	[sing the mutiny]
[in the slave house]	[sniff bougainvillea]	[who stands ashamed]
[i say]		 	[ready dawn’s kill]	        [naked in the corner]

                                [jealous sharks]

[i shall]			[who did]		        [i say]
[they did]		        [i’m here]		        [my name]
[who shall]		        [i say]		        [yes here]

                                [on the battlefield] 

[call woman]		[call america]		[call revolution]
[call the brother]	        [call myth]                  [i say] 
[call the auction]	        [call africa]		        [call revolution]

                                [in God’s name]

[is this called]		[is my mother]		[is my kin]
[i say]			[is this called]		[is some land]
[is my mother]		[and what] 		        [is this called]

	after Lucille Clifton


Copyright © 2014 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 10, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

“This poem is dedicated to Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book of poetry, and a woman who was taken from Africa—and presumably, her parents—as a small child and then, sold into slavery. In West African culture, a ‘griot’ is an historian, storyteller, praise singer, or poet; the different, encapsulated bits of language in this poem represent the many black female speakers who remember the stories of their stolen kin.”
—Honorée Fanonne Jeffers


Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of five poetry collections, including The Age of Phillis: Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2020) and The Gospel of Barbecue (The Kent State University Press, 2000), which was selected by Lucille Clifton for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.

Date Published: 2014-02-10

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