Published on Academy of American Poets (


What have I

To say in my wrong tongue

Of what is gone   To know something is

Lost but what   You have forgotten what

You long forgot   If I am 

What survives   I am here but I am not

Much of anything at all   To be what’s left 

And all the rest scooped out 

And dropped into the sea   My flesh

Forming a knot on itself is a habit

Learned from whom   A mind reaching back

Into the dark a body releasing itself

Backward into space a faith

I have no prayer in which to keep

Am I home or merely caught

Between two unmarked graves

I’m saying where we live

 It’s a mistake   A compromise 

I’m made to make   

I’m told come willingly 

Halfway across a bridge to where

I’m halfway human   Or else 

A door bricked over 

Behind which all I am   

To be shadow cast by shadows cast

By no one’s hand   And now

Whose fault am I   It’s said 

I stand against the grain

Of natural law   A being in chaos

In argument with itself   What would it be

To be simply   I am here but what of me 

That’s gone stays gone



Copyright © 2019 by Camille Rankine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“One thing about being a product of the transatlantic slave trade is that at some point, your history goes dark—there’s a part of you, your legacy, that’s torn away. Something you can’t ever get back. As a US-born child of Jamaican immigrants, I half belong to an island whose original Taino inhabitants have been largely erased by the disaster that made me; my Scottish last name carries with it a tartan that bears no ancestral weight for my family. What would it be like to have a land or a language or even a name that truly belongs to you, that you truly belong to? I wonder about that all the time.”
Camille Rankine


Camille Rankine

Camille Rankine is the author of Incorrect Merciful Impulses (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), and the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire. A Visiting Assistant Professor at The New School, she lives in Harlem.

Date Published: 2019-12-05

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