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A Man, A Woman, A Child, A People (The Journey Has Left Us All With Nightmares)
by Retta Lewis​

We’re still writing the ending to this story,
But the beginning was bold enough.
No one is alive to remember the story as it happened,
And no one who ever lived
Could forget the story once they knew.
 
A man, a woman, a child, a people.
 
What there was of us
Could not survive a journey across the ocean
Without dying its own brand of death—
And now, the centuries are one.
 
There is much reflection on the damages,
But conversation has been used to reveal nothing.
 
The tales of our arrival,
And the lack of any means of escape, reverberates.
The journey has left us all with nightmares—
How many have we faced?
 
The truth—
It will not treat this history well,
But it’s not hiding its face anymore.
 
Until the story is told,
The life that didn’t get lived
Is still waiting to die its death.
 
Unlike how history has us sorted,
We were riding out a storm;
Sorting out a journey over quicksand
With what choices we had left.
 
It is with the remembering that we struggle,
The facts that we stumble,
And the things we can never know.
 
A man, a woman, a child, a people.
 
How do we make sense of events
We are unable to reconcile?
The mourning period is over;
The bloody coup is complete.
 
Put into historical context,
We did not emerge from it unscathed.
 
We drew a field of darkness—
It did not serve us;
But what do we know about landmines
And snipers on the roof?
What do we know about darkness
And the damage it can do?
 
This is our sacrifice;
This is our discontent.
How do we emerge from it?
How do we dare?

Ancestral Supplications
by Vicie Rolling

On those darkest of days,
When I feel no one cares
In that funnel of doom
The loneliness
Overwhelms me
Consumes me
Makes me feel
Empty
Blank
Useless
Flat
Fruitless
Forgettable
Unaware
Of my place
In the Universe
Reserved for me only
Kept by a thin veil of prayer
Of those who went before me
The supplications of ancestors
Feeds and Fashions my spirit and
Makes me whole again

As I Wake, I Hear Children Crying
by Ellen Wright
* Content Warning: contains subjects of violence and abuse

AS I WAKE, I HEAR CHILDREN CRYING
 
and their mother shouting.
I creep out of bed.
The woman doesn’t want him to hit her anymore,
but no matter what she says,
her voice full of tears, it’s wrong—
and my cousin slaps his wife again.
Peeking through my narrowly opened door,
I see shadows pantomiming,
and I see the children down the hall
in their thin, brown skin—crouching
in the bathroom, huddled together
beside the chipped, white clawfoot tub.
The Connecticut house on the tree-lined street
is ablaze with anger.
I want to stop his assault, slap him back,
rescue their mother and save the girls,
but I’m no hero.
I’m thirteen in the summer of 1975
trying to escape the unhappiness of my own home,
and I can’t save them.
I jump back in bed. Perhaps he heard me.
Perhaps he remembered I was in his house
when he opened the door
and sat on the edge of my bed.
His words were blank with the cries
of his children ringing in my ears,
my contempt as visible as blood in my eyes.
He drove me hours home to Jersey.
I said nothing, saving myself,
leaving two little girls behind,
burying the ugliness
of my Connecticut summer.

A Time for Flowers
by Ellen Wright

Why write now about the delicate nature of lilies,
             their blush, their grace,
                          when men and women lose their lives in the streets,
                                        and a police officer is so brazen as to murder
                                                       a black man in front of witnesses
                                        holding cameras, pleading for the man's life?
This is the summer we channel the spirits
              of the great civil-rights poets like Dudley Randall,
                            who wrote about the Birmingham church bombing of 1963
                                           and the deaths of Addie Mae, Cynthia,
                                                           Carole and Carol Denise,
                                           whose coffins, newspapers show, were draped
                            in black and white flowers.
This is also a time for flowers
               like the dozens of red roses adorning the coffin
                              of George Floyd, or the blue lilies
                                             and yellow mums that draped the coffin
                                                           of Ahmaud Arbery,
                                             or the one with hints of lavender that draped the coffin
                              of Breonna Taylor, or the hundreds that draped the coffins
               of dozens of others who died away from the public eye
                              after protests, during protests,
                                              because they were thought to be protesting,
                                                              or while they were jogging,
                                              or while they were behind closed doors
                              minding their own business.
Yes. This is a time to write about flowers,
                                            the exuberant spray of white lilies
                                                            that silently say this life mattered.

B(l)ack & fo(u)rth: a palindrome
by Latorial Faison

Dead & gone like King
Like Malcolm, like Obama.
We be a black dream
We be a black dream
Like 40 acres & mules
Like the right to love
 
Like the right to love
We be craving honey, house
Sometimes without home
Sometimes without home
We be craving all the world
Like the right to vote
 
Like the right to vote
We dared to dream, learned to read
Like Phillis, the Bible
Like Phillis, the Bible
Bearing white people’s myths, gifts
On the wings of words
 
On the wings of words
Black men & Black women flew
From slavery to freedom
From slavery to freedom
Our enslaved people survived
The whip & the chains
 
The whip & the chains
O, how they tried to break us
For America
For America
The colonies our backs built
Betrayed & traded
 
Betrayed & traded
Like lambs led to a slaughter
We be fatted calves
We be fatted calves
Sacrificed at the return
Of wayward children
 
Of wayward children
America calls not things
As though they are here
As though they are here
America calls not things
Of wayward children
 
Of wayward children
Sacrificed at the return
We be fatted calves
We be fatted calves
Like lambs led to a slaughter
Betrayed & traded
 
Betrayed & traded
The colonies our backs built
For America
For America
O, how they tried to break us
The whip & the chains
 
The whip & the chains
Our enslaved people survived
From slave to freedom
From slave to freedom
Black men & Black women flew
On the wings of words
 
On the wings of words
Bearing white people’s myths, gifts
Like Phillis, the Bible
Like Phillis, the Bible
We dared to dream, learned to read
Like the right to vote
 
Like the right to vote
We be craving all the world
Sometimes without home
Sometimes without home
We be craving honey, house
Like the right to love
 
Like the right to love
Like 40 acres & mules
We be a black dream
We be a black dream
Like Malcolm, like Obama
Dead & gone like King.

Black Female Bodies
by Cheyenne Marcelus

I once did a Google search for images of “Black girls having fun.”
I instead found images of Black girls gone missing.
2 Black girls gone missing from campus                  2 Black girls gone missing from
church
         2 Black girls gone missing from a playground                         2 Black girls gone
missing from DC
                                          2 Black girls gone missing from Chicago

and to disconnect the missing from the discovered,
2 Black female bodies
they would often phrase it.
 
Sometimes one body may have collapsed a few feet away from the other,
and they would be presented as separate unrelated incidents;
as if they were not near to one another,
tethered together by cracked bones and dried blood;
dear to one another,
with families waking together,
filling their bellies with similar contents of soul food;
as if their homegoings wouldn’t be at the same missionary Baptist,
sermoned by the same pastor who is exhausted of funerals.
 
2 Black female bodies;
the missing girls who were missing too long.
If there were really such strength in numbers
they’d call out to each other
and ascend their way home.
If I avoided the footsteps of all the missing Black girls,
I’d have nowhere to step,
Nowhere to play,         nowhere to pray,                no school to attend,
               no babysitter, no boyfriend,  no best friends,
               Nowhere to eat, sleep, or shit.
 
And they never give enough detail
about the soul that has left the Black female body.
They don’t show the communities mourn;
they don’t capture the emptiness of her former classrooms and hallways,
or show a montage of the doodles in her notebooks,
a neighbor on the news saying she was such a sweet child
or a spirited child,
but nonetheless a child,
connecting her to someone’s womb.
 
I don’t think a decade from now there will be a documentary about each of the missing
Black girls
who were Resurrected as Black female bodies.
No, they may instead make one big documentary
about the epidemic of Black girls gone missing between this year to that year
and how nobody really knew
and we only read news of it in Instagram comments;
perhaps a single docuseries where a handful of the country full of Black female bodies
receive souls and names.
I don’t know which of them will truly get to rest.
I can’t say for sure what God may greet them.
So many missing Black girls
become Black female bodies;
who knows what the bodies become.

Black Questions
by Jasmine Harris

Can someone?
Can someone tell me why I buried my brother today?
Tell me why I was clawing at the casket trying to capture our last moment?
I couldn’t look away.
Couldn’t tell you the number of times
I begged him to be careful.
Couldn’t tell you the number of times
I was fearful.
 
Our calculators could only count so high
and as high as we used to get just to get by,
just comprehend how we had lost another friend.
We didn’t have the space to lose him, a hole deepening within
 
Cause I would lead 1000 squared troops into war over you,
cause I would teach a class telling our story just to get through
to a generation tryna be realer than the next,
tryna get bodied and buried as if street cred cashed life insurance checks,
as if the burden laid on moms wasn’t heavier than that casket.
 
I keep asking,
 
Can someone tell me why I buried another son?
You see, I poured into him from my empty cup
‘cause my glass was passed as if the cracks glistening were silver and I had enough luck.
Thought I cried enough tears,
thought I lost enough.
I keep telling the universe I am not that tough.
 
I cannot endure,
continuing to give hope when even hope is unsure
that the seeds I have sown will flourish before the fields set flame
and ablaze.
My soul is on fire as I stand in hell.
Can someone tell?
 
Can someone tell me why I lost hope?
Why I’ve been grasping onto threads like this was the rope
that could pull us all up,
could supply us all with silver spoons and china-ed cups?
 
Yet I put the mask on my face,
hell we all do as a race,
cause no one can answer our questions...

Dame Jere
by Gayle Bell

Still small voice saw him first.
There be angels.
Ma’am would you mind putting these things on your walker?
I don’t get around so good.

His attaché had faded green party stickers,
the Jamaica flag, rainbow stickers,
Mondale vs. some obscure nemesis.
 
He offered his half a turkey sandwich
to a woman trying to sleep
on the anti-vagrant benches near the AA center.
 
He gestured to the crowd gates set up on Olive St.
Think they’re going to have the pride parade down here ma’am.
I laughed. I doubted it.
You going to the parade tomorrow?
Been there, got the shirt, I’m too old.
 
Well, he preened, raised a bit of his shorts
with a practiced dainty hand
to reveal a pair of orange panties
frillier than the ones I was wearing.
 
We slow-walked to the rail.
He regaled me of floats,
he, the queen of the regalia,
satins pearls taffeta
unforgiving in this lone star heat. 
 
The train broke me from the enchanted tales.
Like my momma use ta say,
just cause you’re an angel you don’t have to be a fool.
Since I was neither, I told him I had to dash. 
 
He grabbed his belongings,
thanked me for the assist. 
I curtseyed and wished him a gentle journey.
He blew me a kiss
that in times past would have held
a jeweled glove.

Eminence
by Essah Cozett

My body
is a mountain 
many have not known.
 
I am mud, 
rocks and rivers
fortified by untwisting trees.
 
The world
rotates around me.
I do not bow to anarchic winds. 
 
When I rub
my hands together, 
valleys of veins arise
 
leading me
to an all knowing 
of myself. As if the sea 
 
still waters 
beside green pastures
restore my shifting soul. 
 
Darkness is 
a myth of the abyss,
and I defy  g  r  a  v  i  t  y. 

Façade
by Zuri McWhorter

We are just children
pretending to be lovers
and sisters and brothers
 
A façade for the weak
and tortured
 
A broken support system
for one another
 
We’re all just children
playing a game
with broken plastic pieces.

Figures Spread Densely Across a Target Range
by Retta Lewis

With strong dark lines
That weave life
Out of invisibility,
We unsettle a nation,
Unhinge a paradise.

Not viewed as more than atmosphere
In an exchange of discord,
Nor more than figures
Spread densely across a target range,
We puzzle a planet,
Trouble a universe.

But we are not the obstacles.
We perch beneath the threat of them,
As history carves out a place for us
Across a plain of competing events.

All major concerns have gone unaddressed
On the one clear path that lies ahead;
And around what we take to be our names
There has been carved a message of pain.

Already our fates appear decided.
We seem left with no choice but to battle.
No choice but to litter the landscape
With the symbols of our oppression.

How They Killed My Father with No Guns
by Alexis Clare

My father wouldn’t want me to tell you this.
He was too proud for you to know this on his terms.

​If my father, black child in the early 70’s,
told the police that older black boys molested him,
what do you think they would say?
 
If my father told his father,
absent black man of the 70’s,
what do you think he would say?
 
If my father,
black child in the 80’s,
got sent to a better school, a private school,
predominately white, what do you think the other kids would say?
Do you think they would have made him feel like he belonged?
Do you think they pushed him around the halls?
 
If my father dropped out
because he felt out of place,
do you think people said it was always going to happen?
Do you think anyone but his mother ever told him he was good enough?
 
If my father made it to college,
came south in the 90’s,
do you think they would give him a charge,
maybe two,
to get him off campus?
 
If there was a woman’s word against a black man
with no degree, no accolades from white people,
do you think anyone would listen to him?
 
If he had to get a public defender
for every one of those cases he should have won,
do you think they would fight for him?
 
Do you think once this man had a record list full of charges,
do you think the last woman to accuse him
would have to tell the truth?
Do you think they would give this man,
abuser on paper, felony burglar, armed man,
a chance to tell his story?
 
Do you think they would care if he had daughters?
Do you think they would believe they were keeping him safe from us?
Do you think he would start to believe it too,
that we would only be happy and safe without him?
 
Do you think if this man got a drinking problem
somewhere in all of this,
do you think his friends,
other black men fucked over by the system,
would tell him to stop?
Do you think he would listen
to anyone who told him to stop?
 
Do you think he believed
that he could be a good enough father?
Do you think he ever knew
he made my life better
every second he was around?
 
Do you think if he was driving
at 2 am on Christmas Eve
and cop cars cut on their lights,
do you think he would pull over?
 
Do you think they would call more cops
on this charged sexual offender,
domestic abuser,
felony burglar,
charged armed man
for speeding, for swerving?
 
Would you be surprised
if I told you it turned into a chase?
I can’t tell you that they physically forced him to,
that they pushed his car into the tree,
but do you think they wanted him to?
Do you think they wanted him gone?
 
Don’t you think through half a century
of them pushing him around,
shoving him to the ground,
he thought he deserved
to die on that road?
 
Don’t you think he would have rather died on that road
rather than spend another decade behind bars?
Don’t think that he thought his daughters
would be
better off without him?
Don’t you think they made him believe
the world would be better off without him?

I Don't Dream of Poets
(for Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000)
by Ellen Wright

If I did dream of poets, I'd dream
of Gwendolyn Brooks whose name
is the same as my mother's,
and she was second mother to me;
first black, female poet I loved.
 
I walked the streets of Bronzeville in my head,
met all the characters in the neighborhood
like the unforgettable Satin Legs Smith,
and later The Bean Eaters (dwellers of tenements),
and the seven doomed schoolboys,
cool pool players at the Golden Shovel,
and The Mother whose choice I cannot forget—
grieving children she got but did not get.
 
I follow in the poet's footsteps the way
I never did my mother's. Weeks before her death,
she signed books for me. That day, I watched her
grace as she signed for hours, signed too long outdoors,
draped in a blanket—giving gifts to strangers
like a Bronzeville mother feeding hungry children.
 
I wasn't the only one who loved her. She was poet mother
to us all. She loved us all.

Igbo Landing
by Akua Lezli Hope

We are incomprehensible
​to you who feel only fear
when you hear us, spider
silk on face, chill up back,
which is a success perhaps
to have both sugar and fat,
to die of excess and sloth,
not like we hungry wraiths
whose forgotten flesh was sinew,
whose nonexistent options were
to live death or die living,
whose path was clear:
undo or be undone.
 
Our drowned captors are silent;
their injustice muzzles them
 
We sang the song of home-going,
a freedom bound journey as we
down-drowned with determination,
deliberation, avowals to never surrender,
to die and return from whence we
came, from where we were stolen,
to resist and not submit, calling to
our God, Chukwu, for escort, for conveyance,
for admission to the next phase,
existence beyond this abominable land
out of reach of horrible hands:
 
Those who would eat our souls, bite
bit after bit, daily flay flesh
from our backs, lynch us,
take our babies, steal their milk,
rape our young ones, remove our tongues,
and in that terrible future in which you tremble
by our whispers, lingering laments,
you would believe such theft was chosen?
 
And that is what frightens you.
We refused to languish in longing;
you hear our reverberating answers echo
through the water, slow lapping sounds,
waves creeping on the land, our avowals.
 
We consecrated our commitment,
how we said no with our lives,
for our lives, how we refused
that hell on land, making generations
of grist for the hideous mill of rogue
capital, the codified caprice of robbers
we brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, clear-willed
strong-souled, liberty-led, freedom-fed,
returned to mother water, singing a way
open.
 
Out of 75, only 13 were found
drowned, the rest of us lifted,
transmuted, flew.
 
Author's Note: Igbo Landing is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, where, in 1803, 75 Igbo captives, after drowning their captors and running the ship York aground, marched ashore, singing, and walked into Dunbar creek, committing mass suicide. 13 bodies were recovered. The rest remain missing. In 2002, the site was declared a holy ground.

Like a Prophet Whose Hour Has Come
by Latorial Faison

As necessary as a healing, a memorial day flag, a tributary kneeling. On a killing field,
your knee is strong as a freedom song. Your hands hold a rock ready, stoning those yet
un-accused. A new Jim Crow threatens, while you, a new Negro, shall not be moved
through this multi-million dollar joy in standing up for innocence persecuted, for all the
martyred men, women & children with a single month to praise them.
 
After four hundred years, the beat goes on, blue lights descend on blackness with red
demons terrorizing the audacity of hope, the audacity of a white dream. You are
sacrificial to stand, notable to kneel, honorable to open up this can of ‘we are tired of the
world watching as they silence our black asses to all kinds of death.’
 
What tomorrow brings has been written in a scroll. If ‘God loves a cheerful giver,’ God
also loves a cheerful giver of truth & justice. Keep carrying this torch we were born to
carry & watch them come with billy clubs & fire hoses to extinguish the flame of
freedom because you, like a prophet on a crucifix, are strong enough to raise the issue of
the dead.

Mama Sang the Blue
by Latorial Faison

I.
Mama’s bottle tested illusion. Therein was a holy
Water from a great river that healed the sick,
 
Raised the dead. She sipped small sips with her Black
Lips, hummed hymns nice & slow, in & out of contralto,
 
Like Mahalia Jackson. Tell the angels that I’m on my way,
Toe tapping, head rocking & all hard working,
 
Poor & saved. Bittersweet like a one-room school,
She came together like an old Negro textbook— 
Missing pages yet heaven sent. The god of white evil
Couldn’t have created a strong, Black woman like this.
 
Like a daystar, she appeared in indigo skies, orphaned
& unknown. From a dying womb to a tenant room,
 
She came like a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby Jesus
In a brown-skinned country; it didn’t make no sense.
 
The poison she picked—a balm that delivered her from evil,
From lying white tongues to the lynching of Black sons.
 
Mama grew stronger than Samson on Friday nights
Every time she stole away to grab pieces of her
 
Humanity back. It was a happy sadness that dealt in
Pain. For when white folk got your tongue, you
 
Can’t tell nobody but Jesus & when Jesus got you
Singing like Mahalia, you can’t trust nobody but God.
 
II.
 
Mama was serious about her religion, the Baptist
Church down the dirt road & choir rehearsals on
 
Thursday nights. With songbooks, hand-written
Notes & a third grade education, she impressed
 
Her own self. Standing in the choir on the promises
Of God, all robed & righteous, she was worth more
 
Than white women. Her voice, like a whippoorwill,
Could whistle a song all through a dark night, all through
 
The struggle. When she sang from her midnight,
I knew she was light. Mama was a voice of dark brown
 
Reason—calling out to God, crying out for freedom.
I listened with every hope that had ever come between us.
 
She sculpted me into me with a melody she hummed
Through all kinds of hell. Mama was a nuance, a renaissance
 
Inhaling & impaling grief, exhaling peace of mind, a piece
Of mine. She was a professor of arts & letters & God
 
Quilting me with all the pieces she was. Like every strong
Black wise woman who ever was a warrior, whoever came
 
Before her, she came bearing gifts, bequeathing songs.
She came; they came. I, too, have come to raise the dead.

Mother Tongue
by Cheyenne Marcelus

My mother tongue is at the mouth of the
Mississippi and she sings the blues and
spews blessing oil. 102 miles north of the
coast, she grows collards and turnips. She
rears six chickens and a rooster. She is an
entrepreneur with a husband who pays the
bills. Her money is for the grandkids, the
collection plate, and the biweekly press-and-
curl.

My mother tongue has a drawl. Like y’all
and finna and ain’t God good. Ain’t she
beautiful. She is nurturing and steadfast and
don’t take no shit. She soaks her beans the
night before, and there is no such thing as
unsweetened tea. She doesn’t sit her purse
on the floor. She doesn’t spare the rod. She
doesn’t miss a Sunday.

My mother tongue is the sound of fresh
flowers and neatly folded napkins, honey
baked ham adorned with pineapples, five
inch heels and coffee-colored pantyhose.
She is soprano on Sunday and alto on
Monday. She sings blessings or curses
according to the occasion. She yells PUSH!
or Hallelujah! or Don’t shoot! according to
the occasion.

My mother tongue resounds. From
Mississippi to Chicago, she resounds. From
generation to generation, she resounds. She
is Harriet, and Fannie, and Sarah, and Nina.
She is Ruth, and Gussie, and Dorothy, and
Jeannie, and Barbra. She is my mother today
and daughter tomorrow. I whisper her name
​and shatter a mountain.

Movie-Making
by Gabrielle Oliver
*Series Editors' Poetry Pick

              In a flash of confidence,                 you captured me
                       mouth parted as if                   about to say something
                                 impertinent,                   churlish         even
                            my call for space                 though common

         in our ruffled sheet music, made               sense told you
                                         all sweet                           no-
                            things rot. Your                           body wanted
             satisfaction with motion                          pictures taken
                        in my bedroom and                        like that-                                                                                            

our dynamic   fell on a final bar line                  out of nowhere.

Oz (Africans in America)
by Retta Lewis

Did they never talk
Or dream of this?
Or even imagine the possibility
Of these men?

A net was tossed
And some chains introduced.
A giant leap into a small fire
And then the landing into this Oz.

This began the struggle of conversation
And the veils of defense.
This has defined the battlelines
Along which we fight this hour,
This century.

Did they never talk
Or dream of this?
Or even imagine the possibility
Of these men?

Seeing Colors
by Jerrice J. Baptiste

October wind vibrates trees,
colors multiply, fall to earth
for final sleep.
How sad, trees can’t keep
honeyed orange leaves.
 
Our eyes enriched by color,
a growing enchantment.
Cinnamon skin called brown
Chocolate is black
 
Now, brown & black 
seen & heard.
A sky seen
through naked branches.

Stone Inferno
by Star Anderson

For weeks now, and for more to come,
I have been intensely warmed by the sun
Slowly roasting to a more reddish brown
The tears my skin cries running all around
But, still, right now, I could use a good fire
As tall as the horizon, a monumental pyre
Oppressive facades shouldn't be glorified
I revel in their destruction being televised
While I know this is far from the solution
There is a time for cosmetic ablutions
Some small measure of healing to hold
As the momentum continues to grow
Savor what the ancestors didn't live to see
 
Press on for those still unable to breathe
Get the kindling, strike a match and let it be
Time is dwindling, can't come back from 1500 degrees
Disperse the remains, no service or casket
Allow no phoenix to rise from these ashes
There's much work to be done, this we know
But, at least it has begun, stone inferno

The Autobiography of the Color Yellow
by Rose Maria Woodson

I have called spines & sunrises my own,
marked roads & lanes for all lost
in the fog of vanity, thinking they knew
their own way.
I have slept on orchids,
the silk of petals sublime slipping
me from symmetry to subtlety,
easy as babies’ breath.
I have danced on top of candles,
piled darkness in corners
like nothing more
than dirty laundry.
I have painted peppers & corn,
posed in pastas & salads,
drenched myself in adoring ummms.
I have tattooed papers &
pages of favorite books, marked
time’s passing so quietly
on cherished passages.
I have spent myself on feathers,
soared brightly with finches & orioles
over budding trees, falling leaves,
serendipity over all momentary importance,
suspended in an extraordinary grace
of distance, delighted, knowing
I am not done.

The History is Still Being Written
by Retta Lewis

Analyze it, if you will,
But do not bury me beneath its chains;
And when we celebrate,
Must we be compared to you?
 
Our history—

When the truth is said of it—
Was more than death to us.
We had our victories, too.
 
The terrain was fraught with peril,
And there were walls to navigate;
A thousand miles of thought,
And the remains of a battered landscape.
 
More than a few centuries out,
And the history is still being written.
How do we tell it, and when?
Who can tell it, and why?
 
We’ve had our share of debates,
But it is the names they call us by—
To say nothing of the language barrier—
That we must rectify.
 
It is only now that we can speak
Of what we did not know—
The roads erased,
The paths destroyed,
The maps burned,
The edicts carved in stone,
The laws ratified.

It was not the standard fairytale
That the books would have you believe;
Nor was it quite the end of times,
For we have had our moments.
 
All neatly framed and carefully
Discussed, discarded,
And expounded upon.
 
More than a few centuries out
And discussions are not all that far removed
From the onset of events—
Four hundred years of uninterrupted crossings.
Will any of it signify?
 
We weave a fate out of uneven destinies—
And out of a conspiracy of silence, a new people.

This is Your Love Letter
by Lena Hamilton

for all who helped me in the chase
                                                         ​:this is your love letter

This is for you:
               those who shared
makeshift beds
in
apartments /bare of furniture
               but
full of laughter.
 
               Those who helped fashion toy chest
of diaper boxes
               in shared room/a communal nursery.
 
               Those who remember that five dollars bought us dinner/a plate of fries
& coca cola
crowded cross tables/
               edges of straws kissed deep red/
it was enough.
 
Remember:
               that attic apartment
it was always too hot/
or
too cold
&
               there were too many stairs up &
too many roaches
               & the boys shooting guns in mozart park
               kept us up at night
but
it felt like home.
 
This is for you:
               Girl-warriors
                               armored
with black eyeliner, tight jeans
                and attitude
[we] like gazelles
                lept as one
across tar black streets/
                fragile beauty
                               slicing the air
                skipping
through subway corridors/
                                wild & loud
                                our eyes always on each other
we/were
               we were everything.
 
You must remember night
               if left to silence
we battled fear of
dark
and
curled
three to a bed
               [twin-sized mattress on the floor]
whispering secrets
               not yet swallowing regret.
 
You/
a makeshift family
a fortress
               holding off
               Self-doubt
                              and [private] despair
[curled three to a bed].
 
[I should have said]
                you were so fucking beautiful
                all of you
[we were so young]
                there was no deciphering where you left off and I began
[I was beautiful because of you].
 
We created our own language
              [I’ve asked
                             not one of us now remember the words]
just the catch of eye explosive laughter/
                 forever within our private world.
 
                             We were electric/a current
always/humming/vibrating
                only functioning when complete
                               each
counting on the next
                do not
do not
                let go.
 
We saw ourselves
                larger than life
                                while
mining coat pockets
                 and bottoms of backpacks
for loose change
                 [five dollars bought us dinner/a plate of fries
& coca cola]
that was enough
we were full on each other’s dreams.
 
I have a polaroid
                taken in the deep of Boston winter
we crowd together and smile
                               one almost indistinguishable from the next
[all these years later we have faded]
                                I squint to see
was that you
or me
at the front
                smiling/
                & so impossibly young?
 
Remember:
                you called at 4am
& Jackie and me
                we headed to you
                               through snow and stinging wind
                confounding the nurses [they had no need for our brood]
                                                we circled you calling your son into this world
and Legga:
               bomber jacket zipped tight to cover growing mound of flesh/
                                             we snuck out of biology
to smoke cigarettes
                                 she/balanced on edge of rail
blowing smoke rings
               that I scattered with lazy hand/bored
it was just a game
               [we/so amused that no teachers had even guessed]
                                                                              a tiny thing, just four pounds
we took turns holding her at graduation
                                and you Emily,
                remember how I called
                                                and you came at once
catching last plane from New York
                the pilot holding on runway/
you like wind through concourse
                                               taking off to a round of applause
arriving in time
                to call my son into this world?
 
I was in shock when
one
by
one
you drifted
               [you had named me
most courageous
               always ready to leap]
the truth is
                I was afraid
I was heartbroken/
                had not anticipated
that this love could end
                 I had no idea how to live without you.
 
This is your love letter
there is so much I owe you
[can we ever repay the debts of our youth]
                I have not forgotten the safety of your eyes/
the steady presence of you
your loyalty
                the sound of your laughter entwined as one.
 
                I release you now:
I am no longer afraid
                I am no longer afraid.

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