The miraculous Phillis Wheatley & Gwendolyn Brooks

 

The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America

Something like a sonnet for Phillis Wheatley

“It was not natural. And she was the first. Come from a country of many tongues tortured by rupture, by theft, by travel like mismatched clothing packed down into the cargo hold of evil ships sailing, irreversible, into slavery. Come to a country to be docile and dumb, to be big and breeding, easily, to be turkey/horse/cow, to be cook/carpenter/plow, to be 5’6” 140 lbs., in good condition and answering to the name of Tom or Mary: to be bed bait: to be legally spread legs for rape by the master/the master’s son/the master’s overseer/the master’s visiting nephew: to be nothing human nothing family nothing from nowhere nothing that screams nothing that weeps nothing that dreams nothing that keeps anything/anyone deep in your heart: to live forcibly illiterate, forcibly itinerant: to live eyes lowered head bowed: to be worked without rest, to be worked without pay, to be worked without thanks, to be worked day up to nightfall: to be three-fifths of a human being at best: to be this valuable/this hated thing among strangers who purchased your life and then cursed it unceasingly: to be a slave: to be a slave. Come to this country a slave and how should you sing? After the flogging the lynch rope the general terror and weariness what should you know of a lyrical life? How could you, belonging to no one, but property to those despising the smiles of your soul, how could you dare to create yourself: a poet?”

Read rest of essay. Found via Against Miracles by Evie Shockley at The Poetry Foundation–a mini-essay which talks about the miracles of Wheatley and Gwendolyn Brooks. Shockley urges

“poets, lovers of poetry, and teachers of poetry to keep Gwendolyn Brooks’s name and work alive for the next hundred years and the hundred years after that.  May it still be read, memorized, recited, and shared in that future time, when life—black life—is no miracle, but as quotidian as the revolution of the earth.”

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