How dare I move into the dark space of your body

“The brutal Middle Passage across the Atlantic is one of the most painful chapters in the history of forced African American migration. Thus Aracelis Girmay’s new poetry collection, The Black Maria—a haunting, blistering, vital examination of the African diaspora from 15th-century slave ships to Neil deGrasse Tyson—is a book of memories and seas. […] Some memories are her own. Others are the memories of a people. The title of the collection—taken from the plural of the Latin wordmare, meaning “sea,”—was used by early astronomers to refer to the dark, flat surfaces of the moon they believed were filled with water, a landscape as forbidding and alien as the Atlantic was during the five centuries of the West African slave trade, and as the Mediterranean and other seas are today for migrants and refugees.”  –Sanya Noel in the Chicago Review of Books

Only yesterday did I check out from the library this incredible poetic undertaking by Aracelis Girmay (1977-), and I am already floored.

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“to the sea”

You who cannot hear or cannot know
the terrible intricacies of our species, our minds,
the extent to which we have done
what we have done, & yet the depth to which
we have loved
what we have
loved —

the hillside
at dawn, dark eyes
outlined with the dark
sentences of  kohl,
the fūl we shared
beneath the lime tree at the general’s house
after visiting Goitom in prison for trying to leave
the country (the first time),
the apricot color of camels racing
on the floor of  the world
as the fires blazed in celebration of  Independence.

How dare I move into the dark space of  your body
carrying my dreams, without an invitation, my dreams
wandering in ellipses, pet goats or chickens
devouring your yard & shirts.

Sea, my oblivious afterworld,
grant us entry, please, when we knock,
but do not keep us there, deliver
our flowers & himbasha bread.
Though we can’t imagine, now, what
our dead might need,
& above all can’t imagine it is over
& that they are, in fact, askless, are
needless, in fact, still hold somewhere
the smell of coffee smoking
in the house, please,
the memory of joy
fluttering like a curtain in an open window
somewhere inside the brain’s secret luster
where a woman, hands red with henna,
beats the carpet clean with the stick of a broom
& the children, in the distance, choose stones
for the competition of stones, & the summer
wears a crown of  beles in her green hair & the tigadelti’s
white teeth & the beautiful bones of Massawa,
the gaping eyes & mouths of its arches
worn clean by the sea, your breath & your salt.
                      Please, you,
being water too,
find a way into the air & then
the river & the spring
so that your waters can wash the elders,
with the medicine of the dreaming of their children,
cold & clean.

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The sound of rain outlives us

This gorgeously layered Li-Young Lee (1957-) poem felt right for this rainy day in a draught-stricken landscape, in any landscape really.

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“Water”

The sound of 36 pines side by side surrounding
the yard and swaying all night like individual hymns is the sound
of water, which is the oldest sound,
the first sound we forgot.

At the ocean
my brother stands in water
to his knees, his chest bare, hard, his arm
thick and muscular. He is no swimmer.
In water
my sister is no longer
lonely. Her right leg is crooked and smaller
than her left, but she swims straight.
Her whole body is a glimmering fish.

Water is my father’s life-sign.
Son of water who’ll die by water,
the element which rules his life shall take it.
After being told so by a wise man in Shantung,
after almost drowning twice,
he avoided water. But the sign of water
is a flowing sign, going where its children go.

Water has invaded my father’s
heart, swollen, heavy,
twice as large. Bloated
liver. Bloated legs.
The feet have become balloons.
A respirator mask makes him look
like a diver. When I lay my face
against his—the sound of water
returning.

The sound of washing
is the sound of sighing,
is the only sound
as I wash my father’s feet—
those lonely twins
who have forgotten one another—
one by one in warm water
I tested with my wrist.
In soapy water
they’re two dumb fish
whose eyes close in a filmy dream.

I dry, then powder them
with talc rising in clouds
like dust lifting
behind jeeps, a truck where he sat
bleeding through his socks.
1949, he’s 30 years old,
his toenails pulled out, his toes beaten a beautiful
violet that reminds him
of Hunan, barely morning
in the yard, and where
he walked, the grass springing back
damp and green.

The sound of rain
outlives us. I listen,
someone is whispering.
Tonight, it’s water
the curtains resemble, water
drumming on the steel cellar door, water
we crossed to come to America,
water I’ll cross to go back,
water which will kill my father.
The sac of water we live in

I am careful to want nothing that I cannot lose

Devastating want is lit aflame in the lyrical verse of  Roger Reeves (1980-).

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“Romanticism (the Blue Keats)”

I want a terrace of bamboo. A stuttering harp.
A garden fitted with a grotto and gimp hermit.
I want to lose my last name in the crickets
Coupling beneath my feet. I want the body’s burden,
Four more angels to drag through the streets
Of a city that finds the monkey sacred, the fool careful,
The monk dumb. I want a painting of persimmons
And a persimmon. I want the violence of my love
To leave my sleep and my lover alone. I am dedicated
To the same baffled heart I have always carried.
The diamonds and mud of my mouth. The midsummer
Lurching toward the late-summer heat that will kill
The sage and tomato plants tanning on the veranda.
I want the water and the leg my uncle lost coming from the well.
If one body will hide another and call this hiding love,
I want to always torture myself with another’s wet borders.
An ankle clicking against an ankle. The wrists fettered.
There was something I knew before this. Before my hands
Tore at the ropes, snapped cedar poles and ripped the silk
Of any tent I lay in. I want to know how the savage
Wind loves the house it destroys. I want to know before
I am both house and savage wind, before all of the tents
In the city become tattered rags snagged in the hair
Of our children and the redheaded trees. I am careful
To want nothing that I cannot lose and be sad in the losing.
A terrace made of rotting bamboo. A harp lost in its singing.
My last name and the tomatoes falling from the vine. Woman,
I want this plum heart. And the dying that makes us possible.

__

from King Me