Awake in Elizabeth City

The air in North Carolina demands
you to breathe deep, a challenge
for the body to stall, the quickness
in its blood. There is no rushing here

only time birthing more time,
there is abundance. A surmounting
wealth of space, begging you to see
it spread for miles. The dirt caves

in ditches in front of each home,
a crumbling net to catch, the swelling
of rain against the flatness of earth—
Everything here is holding something

together. In a home there is a woman
who knows my mother’s ghost, who
knows my grandmother’s legacy, she
invites me in her arms because
this place holds anything that returns.

We don’t know how many of those who
looked like us toiled the ground mercantile
bondage beneath our feet. I imagine their

faces must soften to know their
seeds were delivered outside
confinement, amidst the restraint.

At my great grandmother’s funeral,
the four walls of the church inhale,
with people, who knew the woman,

who bore the woman, who bore me.
I know so little of lineage, yet I cannot
help but weep, when I feel every spirit

howl against an organ. I watch a body
that used to sweat through her years
providing for her family nestled deep
in a casket, the same grind of
her living, stirs my bones into
building something out of some—

thing someone else built for me.
How fortunate I am, to have

come from somewhere as
bountiful as this land, as

this woman, finally at rest.
When the doors break,

a flood of black women
release in waves of lavish

hats, an elegant landscape
in their dresses, fanning

the onyx of their delicate
collarbones. When I am

released back into
the Southern sun

I am carried into
the arms of women

each with a different prayer
on her tongue, each twang

bellowing a different song
in all this harmony, I feel

nothing but tears pouring
from my body. In all this

drought, I am everything
buried roused to praise.




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