Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


litany

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me —Nina Simone


today i am a black woman in america
& i am singing a melody ridden lullaby
it sounds like:
              the gentrification of a brooklyn stoop
              the rent raised three times my wages
              the bodega and laundromat burned down on the corner
              the people on the corner
                          each lock & key their chromosomes
                          a note of ash & inquiry on their tongues
 
today i am a black woman in a hopeless state
i will apply for financial aid and food stamps
          with the same mouth i spit poems from
i will ask the angels of a creative god to lessen
          the blows
& i will beg for forgiveness when i curse
          the rising sun

today, i am a black woman in a body of coal
i am always burning and no one knows my name
i am a nameless fury, i am a blues scratched from
the throat of ms. nina—i am always angry
i am always a bumble hive of hello
i love like this too loudly, my neighbors
think i am an unforgiving bitter
            sometimes, i think my neighbors are right
            most times i think my neighbors are nosey

today, i am a cold country, a storm
brewing, a heat wave of a woman wearing
red pumps to the funeral of my ex-lover's

today, i am a woman, a brown and black &
brew woman dreaming of freedom

today, i am a mother, & my country is burning
           and i forget how to flee
from such a flamboyant backdraft
                       —i’m too in awe of how beautiful i look
            on fire

Credit


Copyright © 2016 by Mahogany Browne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


litany was written after the anniversary of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free’ made famous by Nina Simone. And I sat with what that meant, years later—when I am still wishing for a certain type of freedom. To think of the time passing but of senseless deaths of black and brown bodies remaining. The poem was a mulling of all that has changed and all that has not. Injustice has not changed. Poverty has not changed. The idea that I am writing from poem to check to mouth/house, is no coincidence. And the building on my corner was most certainly burned to the ground leaving folks homeless. Within two weeks there was talk of building condos. And my neighbors and I, free to watch, stood on the opposite corner of the destroyed building, as contractors stomped in and out of the remains. Someone smiled loudly about the ‘new multi-million dollar building plans.’ And it didn't feel like freedom at all.”
—Mahogany L. Browne

Author


Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany L. Browne is the author of Redbone (Aquarius Press, 2015) and Black Girl Magic (Roaring Brook Press, 2018), among numerous other books.

Date Published: 2016-05-25

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/litany-1