Published on Academy of American Poets (

valentine for Sally Hemings

there’s a dead jefferson in every black girl’s belly,
an unknown hunger for something stolen.
i found a poem in these parts, in the belly of a black girl.

i was told to look in the garage,
into the person i almost liked,
at the bottom of an odd blue sock buried
in my dresser drawer:
the hiding places of my life.

oh, but if you only knew
the way I wanted to love the dead president,
rescue him from the depths of a stomach,
feed him the warm soil from a Virginia plantation,
feed him pages from my history books,
heavy with lies.

but then i heard Sally scream,
and wondered what she’d think of me,
i heard Sally scream
and wondered what all the black girls
with bloated bellies would think of me
in my confusion:
the way i mistaked his breath, smelling of lavender and france,
for liberty,
when this scent was made of more potent stuff,
of silence,
of a black girl’s blood against white sheets.

i went looking for a poem
in the darkness,
a love poem for Sally,
an apology,
a revelation,
a dead man haunting the hallways
of a breaking girl.


Copyright @ 2014 by Sojourner Ahebee. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2014.

About this Poem

"This poem was sparked after my completion of a history paper that touched on Thomas Jefferson and the way in which his historical legacy has been presented to the average American citizen for centuries. This poem rose from a place of great frustration and indignation for the sexual abuses put upon Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave. I wanted to understand Heming's history as a means of understanding all the historical tension that Black women in America still carry with them to this day. Through “valentine for Sally Hemings” I wanted to question our often contradictory ideals of American liberty/freedom, and Thomas Jefferson's political and personal life offered a plethora of contradiction waiting to be addressed."

—Sojourner Ahebee


Sojourner Ahebee

Sojourner Ahebee is one of the 2014 National Student Poets. The National Student Poets program, presented by The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, is the country’s highest honor for youth poets. Ahebee attends Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where she majors in Creative Writing. Born in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, her hometown is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Date Published: 2014-06-19

Source URL: