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Category archive for: Aracelis Girmay

Dear Minnie, Dear Ms.

     for Minnie Riperton & Ms. Lucille

This earth

    of the dagger-toothed & hawks,

whose names we know,

taking bones for diamonds,

    full of hair & snakes,

earth eating you, slowly,

    below the sound

    of gold horns.

This earth

    with a jaw in its hand.

Brown-chariot, take-you-home

earth, chew you up

    with the quiet work

of animals & trees, underworld

    churning you through

    the dark engines

    of its appetite. This

earth we opened up

    & buried you in, our

treasure, we miss

you, we miss you

    with all life. This night

we think we will never close

    again. We are pinned open

    like a scientist’s moths

    to leave you there dressed

    in a box & earth around you.

This box earth, coffin

    earth. Teeth earth eat

your chest through, laced

by the wrangle of beetles & worms

    & ants who carry your bright pieces

like market cloth over their heads

    to feed you to the queen

    in the deeper corridors

    of mysteries & dirt.

Trust the queen is you.

Trust the mud is you,

& the soft, silver afro of the dandelion.

Trust the grass-whistle might be

your speech, high as the whistle

of the whale. Trust

we’ll know your shape, whatever species

in you answers when we put our faces

to the dirt & call you by

your old & human name.

from Kingdom AnimaliaFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Ode to the Little ”r”

Little propeller

working between

the two fields of my a’s,

making my name

a small boat

that leaves the port

of old San Juan

or Ponce,

with my grandfather,

Miguel, on a boat,

or in an airplane,

with a hundred or so

others, leaving the island

for work, cities,

in winters that would break

their bones, make old,

old men out of all of them,

factory workers, domino

players, little islands themselves

who would eat & be eaten by Chicago,

New York, the wars

they fought without

being able to vote for

the president. Little propeller

of their names: Francisco,

Reymundo, Arelis, Margarita,

Hernán, Roberto, Reina.

Little propeller of our names

delivering the cargo of blood

to the streets of Holyoke,

Brooklyn, New London,

Ojai, where the teacher says,

“Say your name?” sweetly,

& the beautiful propeller

working between

the two fields of my a’s

& the teacher saying, “Oh!

You mean, ‘Are-Raw-Sell-Lease.’”

Or “Robe-Bert-Toe”

or “Marred-Guh-Reetuh, like

the drink!” & the “r”

sounding like a balloon

deflating in the room, sad

& sagging. I am hurt.

It is as if I handed her

all my familiar trees & flowers,

every drawing of the family map

& boats & airplanes & cuatros

& coquis, & she used her English

to make an axe & tried to chop

them down. But, “r,” little propeller

of my name, small & beautiful monster

changing shapes, you win. You fly

around the room, little bee, upsetting

the teacher & making all of Class-310A laugh,

you fly over the yard, in our mouths,

as our bodies make airplanes over the grass,

you, little propeller, are taking over the city,

you are the sound of cars racing, the sound

of bicycle spokes fitted with playing cards

to make it sound like we are going fast,

this is our ode to you, little “r,” little

machine of our names, simple

as a heart, just working, always,

there when we go to the grocery,

there in the songs

we sing in our sleep.

from Kingdom AnimaliaFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.


    What to do with this knowledge

    that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch

of something beautiful. & it grows & grows

despite your birthdays & the death certificate,

& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful

or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out

of your house, then, believing in this.

Nothing else matters.

All above us is the touching

of strangers & parrots,

some of them human,

some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you

a true thing. This is the only kingdom.

The kingdom of touching;

the touches of the disappearing, things.

from Kingdom AnimaliaFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

on poetry & history – after joy harjo

On a panel of men who spoke about history & poetry, she sat quietly for much of it. They, the men, were saying strong things, good things but in authoritative voices, voices that knew they knew things. & she remained the only quiet one. She listened as if she weren’t listening. Her face looked forward. Her quiet seemed distant. It had a straight back. & then she interrupted one of the men & said something like,
“That reminds me of the time…” & she spoke of a fellow Native American teacher in her region who committed suicide near the end of one of the years, & how he must have been hurting & isolated & in pain, but not many people spoke about that, or spoke about his death or their loss when he died. It was swept under the rug, that was the phrase she used, & she said she was at home one day & looking out of the window & she noticed a black thread or string there, floating in the frame, & she observed it for a while, floating there, until she realized that that black string was grief. The grief of the professor, the grief of the students, her own grief, the grief of silence, a historical grief, & that she knew that it was her job to take that thread & put it somewhere, weave it into the larger tapestry (she made a gesture, then, as if that tapestry were just above her head). She said it was her job to put that grief in its place, or else someone else, some child or grown person would be out walking & just walk right into it, without knowing what it was they’d walked into, what they had, then, inherited in a way, what they were, then, carrying & feeling. The danger of that. The grief of that. & that was what she said about poetry & history. & that is all I remember from all of the things that were said that entire day.

from the black mariaFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2016
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.