Published on Academy of American Poets (

I Have This Way of Being

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
           full of the names of odd flowers

I’ve grown in secret.
           I know none of these by name

but have this garden now,
           and pastel somethings bloom

near the others and others.
           I have this trowel, these overalls,

this ridiculous hat now.
           This isn’t a lung full of air.

Not a fist full of weeds that rise
           yellow then white then windswept.

This is little more than a way
           to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,

so that the trowel in my hand
           will have something to push against,

rather, something to push
           against that it knows will bend

and give and return as sprout
           and petal and sepal and bloom.


Copyright © 2016 Jamaal May. Used with permission of the author. 

About this Poem

“The poem keeps negating its considerations while essentially building on the first idea, which is also one way to think of struggle and growth. I think the closest anyone could get to an honest answer about who they are is a metaphor that shifts and evolves as they try to express it. In that reach towards articulation we might spark, within ourselves, broader ideas and questions about the world we grapple with.”
—Jamaal May


Jamaal May

Jamaal May is the author of The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016) and Hum (Alice James Books, 2013). He codirects OW! Arts with Tarfia Faizullah and lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Date Published: 2016-01-28

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