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


A birthday tribute I

my grandmother
Martin
probably/perhaps
was like your grandmother
bronze
high cheekbones
elongated
sculptured neck
pewter hair
an incredible carriage
always erect
poised
ready to succumb
eager to strike
eager to seek rest
peace
my grandmother
like
your grandmother
held your pride
your bleeding nose
your splintered chest
inside
her dirty apron pockets
held your head
your brains
under the heirloom quilt
wove
your words
your whispers
your prayers
into curtains
hung them high
my grandmother
like
your grandmother
would bathe in your tears
cleanse your wounds w/the milk of her nativity
cleanse your heart w/the honey of her offspring
grandmothers, Martin
knew how to do the do
to hold back the night
to stand in line when the line was a curve
with torches in the middle
grandmothers, Martin
bore your limbs
their teeth holding up your manhood
teeth mother
clenching tradition
and engulfing its shadow
you are the dream
of their stolen nights
the gardens
the cotton fields
the plowing
fresh
at the end of a weary day
you made the six mile walks over
snake strewn paths
to the white lady’s house
to pick up dirty laundry
to seem necessary
take laundry back six miles
again
through forest
over bridges
dust
heat
wash
dry
starch
iron
fold
reload basket
carry it back again
you turned the fifty cents
into ethiopian treasure
you made the walk
a crusade
a carousing
a sweet tiredness
you gave them purpose
Martin
my grandmother/your grandmother
I know they were alike
sunday mornings
blue felt hats w/satin birds
ostrich feathers
they carried little red bibles
missionaries
quiet
humming
watching little boys like you
become men
become warriors
become statues
landmarks
historical footnotes
they were so alike
holding and sharing
the pain of granddaughters
losing sons, Martin
tears
letting go of the holy ghost
feasting at the love
table
early sunrise
prayer services
they link a great
circle
Martin
they climbed with you
we follow.

Credit


From Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Jaki Shelton Green. Used with the permission of the author.

Author


Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green is the author of eight collections, most recently I Want to Undie You (Jacar Press, 2017). In 2019, Green was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. She currently teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and serves as the poet laureate of North Carolina.

Date Published: 2019-08-06

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/birthday-tribute-i