By Marilyn Nelson
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.
Marilyn Nelson, “How I Discovered Poetry” from The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 by Marilyn Nelson. Reprinted with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.
Source: The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997)
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I come home,
feet about to bleed
from angry stomping.
“Boy!” says Mom.
“Quit making all that racket.”
But what does she expect
when, day after day,
haters sling words at me
like jagged stones
designed to split my skin?
I retreat to my room,
collapse on the bed,
count, “One. Two....
Nowhere Else to Go
Turn off the lights.
Wear another layer.
(Sounds like a dad.)
(Sounds like a mom.)
You say hand-me-down.
I say retro.
Walk some more.
(See what I did there,
Your name in Sharpie
on a good water bottle.
Backpack. New habits.
No thanks, don’t need a bag.
Tell ten friends
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The Last Word
I am a door of metaphor
waiting to be opened.
You’ll find no lock, no key.
All are free to enter, at will.
Simply step over the threshold.
Remember to dress for travel, though.
Visitors have been known
to get carried away.Illustration by Shadra Strickland
The Racist Bone
I know this is a real thing, because
When I was a kid, my big sister took me
To the Capitol Theater, in my hometown
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And there was a movie that afternoon,
The Tingler, which starred Vincent Price,
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A wishbone branch falls
from my Grandma Thelma’s oak
What do you know about magic? e1 asks.
E bends e old body down, turns
the wishbone branch into
a cross, places it around my neck.
I am strapped at the Black River’s right shoulder,
I want to put down what the mountain has awakened.
My mouthful of grass.
My curious tale. I want to stand still but find myself moved patch by patch.
There's a bleat in my throat. Words fail me here. Can you understand? I...