“What We Carry off the Sea: Zong Survivor’s Child Takes a Bath” by Alexis V. Jackson

Alexis V. Jackson


after Wang Ping’s “Things We Carry on the Sea”

It was Sesame Street,
Ernie particularly,
who taught me how to covet
the company of a floating vessel–
his, duckling shaped and filled with air;
mine, always a ship-like boat;
both always smiling and squeaking.
Splish splash I was taking a bath,
Ernie and I would sing—
Bing-bang, Elmo saw the whole gang
a song about embarrassment,
a song about being stuck in the water
after invasion, while the unwelcome
party while we are too naked and too
surprised and too out-armed and then
we join them.
A-splishin’ and a-splashin’
On wash days, when
I was allowed to soap soak my body and hair,
you could catch me trying to float in the tub—
trying to be a life raft for the Barbies
lying in a row on my tummy. Tug
Boat would watch from the soap dish
and the pink- and green-haired trolls would take
audience next to the spigot as I sank
to the bottom—nappy and knotted—a splash,
small-bodied and black.
How long can a child at sea,
hold her breath? or float? or try
to float? Without a bright rubber boat,
without the company of others
co-hoping to reach a friendly shore,
how long does she splish and splash
before she acquiesces?
We was a-movin’ and a-grovin’
We was a-rollin’ and a-strollin’
Why, even here, must all the dolls be Black?
And the language be Black?
It is 1995. Do any still have to jump
and sink?
A-splishin’ and a-splashin’
How long does a body
hold memory of a body?
How often does a body reenact
someone else’s memory?
How many songs and sounds tangle
us in something like home
where we have reason
to greet the sated water with nothing
to covet.

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022


Alexis V. Jackson: “Song and scent, for me, are the strongest connections to memory. My mother taught me how to remember things with song and verse; so, I’m conditioned to connect hymns and rap verses to blood memory and lived experiences. This poem is about what we see M. NourbeSe Philip ‘exaqua[s]’ in Zong, what Philip and Ping invited me to do with language and memory, what my mother has conditioned me to do, what conversations with water about their memory looks like.” (web)

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