Two Poems


"Race in Language"


Look back            a generation, I look back
       Ten generations on my mother's side
Further, to England and to Ireland
       Knowing ten words they knew, a thousand words


Knowing the language they, my ancestors
       Knew on my mother's side, in Ireland
In England. I look back                   two genera-
       tions on my father's side, his mother and


His father, and I'm sure I know them, most
       Of the words they knew. I can't look back and know
Their fathers or their mothers.        I can guess
       Six generations back,        or seven, too


Many far back past        seven, back.       at eight or
       Further, I might not, if I stood before them
Any who lived in Africa, I might
Not know a single word. What could I say

What object could I, if I stood before
Them, any ancestor, what object could
I gesture to, to start to learn the language
Wherever I have met them, if I stood
Before them, any one, if there were trees
There, I could touch a tree, say Tree, then point
To them, then back to the tree, or thump my chest
And say my name, or say You are my aunt
Or say You are my father many fathers
Before him. What are we? What is your word
For you? What do you know about the ocean
If he lived inland. If he lived beside

The ocean, if whatever carried me
Through time to him could keep us there forever
I could stand listening forever, between
Him and the ocean. I could stand forever


"Race in the Body"


To live and not to understand
My body, who it lives. To live
Allowed the black of the blackness of
The back of my black hand
A gift of the back of my own hand
Upon which, I can balance things
But can't hold them, and not the pink
Of the black palm I hold
Now toward you, now toward you
And almost it's your own outstretched
Hand in a perfect darkness, which
You now can't place, can't know

In the perfect darkness in the un-
familiar room. The feeling you
Can't place your hand, that's really you
Not knowing how the room
Is furnished, will you stumble over
The heart of the room, a thing so low, if
You hadn't gone the way you're going
You would have passed forever
Over it, your hand forever float-
ing in an atmosphere above
The possibility of touch-
ing that which, were you not
A stranger here, could only seem
Strange if you looked at it too long
A low or in a corner thing
That makes the room the room
It is, the bed, the television
Or the long, shrouded desk, upon
Which once, but how could you have known
A neighbor laid a twitching
Animal, broken, sticky with
Blood, nobody would say it was blood
Except out loud, nobody inside
Themselves, instead they shout-
ed it, their panic carrying
The blood away, each shout the body
Of the word, Blood! neighbor and children
And parent, someone brings
Paper towels and a cup
Of water from the kitchen, later
No one remembers who, tap water
Whoever it was stopped
To choose a ruined cup, from the back
Of the cabinet, the children clean
Their brushes in it, when they paint
Stained water pales the dark
Blood as the shuddering animal
Dies, from which cup only a stranger
Would drink. Where is the heart? With the lights on
You see no stain at all