February 2, 2017

Jamaica Baldwin

CALL ME BY MY NAME

Between Nina Simone’s teeth and pendulum quiver—

A tiny white misery unfolds
from the Appalachian hills.
Men with black lungs

gather in red caps
for their right to descend
again. Polished white

women give control
of their wombs to a salmon-
skinned savior for a myth.

Alternative fact: he will come for you too.

I’m the brown daughter
of a white woman who voted blue
and now has made a nest

called sorrow from twigs of left-
wing shame, from shards of blue
glass bottles and jellyfish,

from coral reef blue and eye bruise
blue, from her there’s plenty of room
for you blue, but how do I tell her

I can’t live there too? How do I
tell her she named me after papaya
flesh and cornhusk, after sweet

juice of black women’s song,
whose only known border is water,
who dip sacramental bread in

Obea chant? Slow churned
memories of the Arawak.
Did she know they were a poetic

people when she named me?
Did she prophecy the sap of Ackee tree
lingering in the ashen grooves

of my knees and elbows?
Their jerk and rock-steady lilt.
What I don’t know of them

is the white space of every page
I’ve not yet written. What I don’t know
of my people is their name.

A tiny white misery smokes
meth in the alluvial plains
of Missouri. Make America great

again! slides through decaying
teeth dangling from threads
in the mouth of last-ditch hope.

Alternative fact: I will fight for you too.

I’m the brown daughter
of a black man from Dallas who died
like black men do: too soon,

back broke, inevitably. In
retrospect we should have
buried him in the worn down

beanie he wore every day:
yellow, green and black—
Appropriation or premonition?

Were he here, he’d shrug, say,
ain’t no surprise. Them white folk
never meant us t’have too much

slack in that rope. How do I tell him
I can’t give up like that? How
do I tell him, he named me

after a place designed to resist:
cocoa leaves and tamarind breeze,
cutlass slash, and Parish streets.

Did he know my name
would call attention to
how very American I am?

A tiny white misery has spread
disease-like from every he doesn’t
mean that, each he tells it like it is,

and words are just words I heard
from all the well-meaning
white folk who voted him

in. Between Standing Rock
and Flint, Michigan
—I am here.

Between refugee
and immigrant
—I am here.

Between birth control
and rape control
—I am here.

Between Nina Simone’s teeth
and pendulum quiver
—I am here.

Poets Respond
February 2, 2017

[download audio]

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Jamaica Baldwin: “This piece was written in response to the daily lies espoused by the new president and his administration, the emergence of the phrase ‘alternative fact’ in the political lexicon, and the simple fact of Trump’s presidency.” (website)