Category Archives: Poetry

“Eulogy (for Jerry Gafio Watts)” by Wally Swist

My first memory of you has to be

that of your hands combing through

the sale books on the cart in front

of the store one autumn afternoon

 

in 1975, your brown leather brief-

case, with a gold metal latch, your

ce que vous êtes connu par. That

was your first year in New Haven,

 

having just graduated from Harvard,

and you wearing the poor Ph.D.

student persona as well as you did

that Walt Frazier mustache; although

 

you never grew an Afro, your hair

was always well groomed, like that

of Malcolm or Stokley Carmichael.

Too poor to buy books, you read

 

standing up, and if you didn’t finish

you would come back the next day

and pick up where you had left off.

However outspoken you might have

 

been, you deflected praise for

the street people you would put up

in your small apartment on sub-

zero nights. Your heart always

 

matching the largesse of your good

Samaritan acts, including the time

I was broken into when I was living

over on the Hill, and you insisted on

 

accompanying me when I returned

to gather my things. When we

managed the bookstore on Saturday

nights, your students would sit on

 

the floor below the raised counter,

where you would hold court, lecture

them about American studies and

W.E.B. DuBois. Two decades later,

 

when we found ourselves both on

another college campus in Hartford,

you included me in the dedication

to your magnum opus, Amiri Baraka :

 

The Politics of the Black Intellectual,

where you honored our collegiality.

When I found out about your death

last November, on your birthday this

 

May, I comprehended the synchronicity

to be all about your thinking it was

about time that I should finally know.

How could we realize there might be

 

forty years ahead of us when we first

met, as you were perusing the titles on

that cart of books I had wheeled out

on the street, knowing as I do now that

 

I’ll never not stop perceiving your sharp

inflection when I recall hearing

you say, Brothah, how are you doin’,

Brothah, while being aware that we

 

actually were kinsman of the heart,

and how if we were informed that we

might have had four decades to read

and write we would have smiled and

 

thought ourselves fortunate, but how

those years have elapsed so quickly

that I would have wanted to share with

you how I believe we just might have

 

discovered something valuable about

our experience in how the evanescent

is a necessary component in

the divine creation of what is éternité.

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“Reincarnations” by Claire Simpson

1. American girl arrives in port city, China; 2004

 

I still remember stepping out, clutching

all we owned, inhaling salty air—

air streaked with smells ineffable. And their

eyes and ours brought from so far, now touching.

Windows to the soul. And manmade titans

scrape the sky, and vehicles of every

type you could imagine, packed conjointly

like us in our cab. And red flags, tridents

foreshadowing the mornings in the sun

in line, in uniform, and synchronized

with stiff salutes and voices lifted high

in praises of their country. All as one—

one sea of ebony that tried to shroud

our distinct heads of blonde hair and light brown.

 

2. American girl on life in Chinese city; 2013

 

I’ll tell the truth— sometimes I would forget

while riding in a tightly packed subway

that we were more than faces in the waves

despite how we tried to blend with the rest;

felt camouflaged— expression and our dress

now matching theirs. But we were wolves,

devouring their culture. Our own selves

becoming just like sheep to some success.

Their tones of black note musicality

spilled from our lips. We spoke another tongue

some time ago. But now we sing out hymns

unsung in that republic of the free,

that place where my heart used to run; but now

what once I thought was foreign is my home.

 

3. American? girl returns to the States; 2014-present

 

They welcomed me home, but didn’t know

my loss. I hadn’t brought back everything

while I was packing. No space enough for something

I’d grown to know so closely. And so

I study all my catalogued traditions

to pick and choose which custom is my own,

or rather, just survive. I’ll find the flow

and I’ll survive the waves. The conditions

demanding of me constant oscillation.

I see what is required for my projection—

I give appearance of full acclimation,

although my heart feels pulled in two directions.

“Where are you from?” the question that I fear;

“Where am I from?” I ask myself, unclear.

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“My Heart Is an Immigrant” by Trevor Scott Barton

My heart is an immigrant.
It loves its home.
The snow like a blanket in winter,
the flowers on the mountain in spring,
the salt in the sea in summer,
the leaves on the trees in fall,
are life for my heart.

Its memories are here.
Its family is here.
Its home is here.

Yet one too many guns have been pointed at it at checkpoints in the street.
One too many clouds have disappointed it by banking up on the horizon but not bringing rain.
One too many coughs have broken it when there was no medicine to give.

So my heart is tired,
poor,
huddled,
wretched,
homeless,
and tempest-tost.

It loves its home,
But it is time for it to go.

It pulls on its brown, tattered coat,
its black, holey shoes,
and its red, wool scarf.
With tears in its eyes
it says, “Goodbye,” to its home.

It picks up its battered suitcase,
the one with tape around its ends,
lest it break open and spill out
my fathers favorite shirt,
a love letter from my wife,
and a picture of my children,
all I have in the world,
onto the ground.

It takes its first step toward a new world.

Now it sits silently
back to back and knee to knee
with poor women
and little children
who also have immigrant hearts.

It is deep in the hull of a ship
tossing in a storm on the sea.
It is high on the roof of a train winding down a long, steep hill.
It is walking barefoot on a dusty road.

With each step it whispers, “Thank you.”
With each mile it longs for the words, “I care.”
With each thousandth mile it hopes for kindness.

Will it look into a face and see mild eyes?
Will it find a hand to hold?
Will it be welcomed?

My heart is an immigrant.

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“At Least” by Cooper Harrison

I give her my mind

She smiles soft

Calls it kind

We get along fine

For dull summer days keeping us safe

from well deserved whine

The wine makes wanting more for each other

And a tear is shed

Then 17 years later we find our backyard shed filled with tears

At least they salt the pool

Keep it clean

Oh honey we ought to have a little more

Dirt

Grime

Love

Upon hearing this she forces those too-clean, white, putrid tears dry

Back into whimpering sockets of defeat and deceit

I cower in fear

After exchange of 5 more years

I wake up

Finally god damn walking

Down grey path

Alone and surrounded by deer

Also an uncomfortable guilt that 2/5th of me is dead or at least shocked beyond good faith

I guess I’m really less alone

than a sad middle-aged man far from home

More numb than starkly dumb

At least I’ve escaped from

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