Written and spoken word: International Women’s Day!

power to ya

Happy (belated) International Women’s Day!


Spoken word: There are so very many inspiring talks to listen to by some truly fantastic ladies, but here are just a few I’d recommend…

women 1

The magnificent Leymah Gbowee talking about The Power of Women & Girls.

The creative powerhouse that is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivering her now legendary TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’.

The incredible Malala Yousafzai‘s Nobel Peace Prize speech.

The wonderful Isabel Allende‘s superb TED Talk: ‘Tales of Passion’.

The passionate (and sometimes problematic) Emma Watson, who repeatedly and wholeheartedly advocates the united enforcement of gender equality: HeForShe at the UN.

The beautifully candid Margaret Cho in an interview about ‘Power Bottoms and Surviving Bullshit’

Written word: A little celebration of some of my favourite poetry by female writers!

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Rebecca Elson (1960 – 1999)

‘Antidote to Fear of Death’

Sometimes as an antidote

To fear of death,

I eat the stars.


Those nights, lying on my back,

I suck them from the quenching dark

Til they are all, all inside me,

Pepper hot and sharp.


Sometimes, instead, I stir myself

Into a universe still young,

Still warm as blood:


No outer space, just space,

The light of all the not yet stars

Drifting like a bright mist,

And all of us, and everything

Already there

But unconstrained by form.


And sometimes it’s enough

To lie down here on earth

Beside our long ancestral bones:


To walk across the cobble fields

Of our discarded skulls,

Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,

Thinking: whatever left these husks

Flew off on bright wings.

Mary Oliver (1935 – )

‘Wild Geese’

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


‘The Journey’

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

‘Mend my life!’

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognised as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

‘What lips my lips have kissed’

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning; but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,

Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,

Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more.


‘First Fig’

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

It gives a lovely light!

Sharon Olds (1942 – )

‘I Go Back to May 1937’

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 

I see my father strolling out 

under the ochre sandstone arch, the   

red tiles glinting like bent 

plates of blood behind his head, I 

see my mother with a few light books at her hip 

standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks, 

the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its 

sword-tips aglow in the May air, 

they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,   

they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are   

innocent, they would never hurt anybody.   

I want to go up to them and say Stop,   

don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,   

he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things 

you cannot imagine you would ever do,   

you are going to do bad things to children, 

you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of, 

you are going to want to die. I want to go 

up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it, 

her hungry pretty face turning to me,   

her pitiful beautiful untouched body, 

his arrogant handsome face turning to me,   

his pitiful beautiful untouched body,   

but I don’t do it. I want to live. I   

take them up like the male and female   

paper dolls and bang them together   

at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to   

strike sparks from them, I say 

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it. 

 Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

 ‘Still I Rise’

 You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.


‘Caged Bird’

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill 

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom. 

 Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

 ‘The Rival’

If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.

You leave the same impression

Of something beautiful, but annihilating.

Both of you are great light borrowers.

Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected,

And your first gift is making stone out of everything.

I wake to a mausoleum; you are here,

Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes,

Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous,

And dying to say something unanswerable.

The moon, too, abases her subjects,

But in the daytime she is ridiculous.

Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,

Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity,

White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.

No day is safe from news of you,

Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.


‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’

 I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,

And arbitrary blackness gallops in:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed

And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:

Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,

But I grow old and I forget your name.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;

At least when spring comes they roar back again.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

 Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

‘The Kiss’

My mouth blooms like a cut.

I’ve been wronged all year, tedious

nights, nothing but rough elbows in them

and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby

crybaby , you fool !

Before today my body was useless.

Now it’s tearing at its square corners.

It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot

and see — Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.

Zing! A resurrection!

Once it was a boat, quite wooden

and with no business, no salt water under it

and in need of some paint. It was no more

than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.

She’s been elected.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like

musical instruments. Where there was silence

the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.

Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped

into fire.


‘Admonitions to a Special Person’ (excerpt)

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.

It must be a wave you want to glide in on,

give your body to it, give your laugh to it,

give, when the gravelly sand takes you,

your tears to the land. To love another is something

like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall

into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

‘Hanging Fire’

I am fourteen

and my skin has betrayed me   

the boy I cannot live without   

still sucks his thumb

in secret

how come my knees are

always so ashy

what if I die

before morning

and momma’s in the bedroom   

with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance   

in time for the next party   

my room is too small for me   

suppose I die before graduation   

they will sing sad melodies   

but finally

tell the truth about me

There is nothing I want to do   

and too much

that has to be done

and momma’s in the bedroom   

with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think   

about my side of it

I should have been on Math Team   

my marks were better than his   

why do I have to be

the one

wearing braces

I have nothing to wear tomorrow   

will I live long enough

to grow up

and momma’s in the bedroom   

with the door closed.


‘A Woman Speaks’

Moon marked and touched by sun   

my magic is unwritten 

but when the sea turns back 

it will leave my shape behind.   

I seek no favor 

untouched by blood 

unrelenting as the curse of love   

permanent as my errors 

or my pride 

I do not mix 

love with pity 

nor hate with scorn 

and if you would know me

look into the entrails of Uranus   

where the restless oceans pound. 

I do not dwell

within my birth nor my divinities   

who am ageless and half-grown   

and still seeking 

my sisters 

witches in Dahomey 

wear me inside their coiled cloths   

as our mother did 


I have been woman 

for a long time 

beware my smile 

I am treacherous with old magic   

and the noon’s new fury 

with all your wide futures   


I am 


and not white.

Warsan Shire (1988 – )

for the fifth time this month

you say you’re going to leave him

he calls you a cunt over the phone

then walks the three miles to your house

and kisses your mouth until the word is just

a place on your body.

i don’t know what brings broken people together

maybe damage seeks out damage

the way stains on a mattress halo into one another

the way stains on a mattress bleed into each other.


 you are a horse running alone

and he tries to tame you

compares you to an impossible highway

to a burning house

says you are blinding him

that he could never leave you

forget you

want anything but you

you dizzy him, you are unbearable

every woman before or after you

is doused in your name

you fill his mouth

his teeth ache with memory of taste

his body just a long shadow seeking yours

but you are always too intense

frightening in the way you want him

unashamed and sacrificial

he tells you that no man can live up to the one who

lives in your head

and you tried to change didn’t you?

closed your mouth more

tried to be softer


less volatile, less awake

but even when sleeping you could feel

him travelling away from you in his dreams

so what did you want to do love

split his head open?

you can’t make homes out of human beings

someone should have already told you that

and if he wants to leave

then let him leave

you are terrifying

and strange and beautiful

something not everyone knows how to love.

Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966)

trans. Judith Hemschemeyer

‘Ah, you thought’

 Ah, you thought I’d be the type

You could forget,

And that praying and sobbing, I’d throw myself

Under the hooves of a bay. 

Or I would beg from the witches

Some kind of root in charmed water

And send you a terrible gift-

My intimate, scented handkerchief. 

Damned if I will. Neither by glance nor by groan

Will I touch your cursed soul,

But I vow to you by the garden of angels,

By the miraculous icon I vow

And by the fiery passion of our nights-

I will never return to you.


‘He Whispers’

He whispers: “I’m not sorry

For loving you this way-

Either be mine alone

Or I will kill you.”

It buzzes around me like a gadfly,

Incessantly, day after day,

This same boring argument,

Your black jealousy.

Grief smothers- but not fatally,

The wide wind dries my tears

And cheerfulness begins to soothe,

To smooth out this troubled heart.

Kim Addonizio (1954 – )

‘Stolen Moments’

What happened, happened once. So now it’s best

in memory—an orange he sliced: the skin

unbroken, then the knife, the chilled wedge

lifted to my mouth, his mouth, the thin

membrane between us, the exquisite orange,

tongue, orange, my nakedness and his,

the way he pushed me up against the fridge–

Now I get to feel his hands again, the kiss

that didn’t last, but sent some neural twin

flashing wildly through the cortex. Love’s

merciless, the way it travels in

and keeps emitting light. Beside the stove

we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers

on the table. And we still had hours.


‘For Desire’

Give me the strongest cheese, the one that stinks best;

and I want the good wine, the swirl in crystal

surrendering the bruised scent of blackberries,

or cherries, the rich spurt in the back

of the throat, the holding it there before swallowing.

Give me the lover who yanks open the door

of his house and presses me to the wall

in the dim hallway, and keeps me there until I’m drenched

and shaking, whose kisses arrive by the boatload

and begin their delicious diaspora

through the cities and small towns of my body.

To hell with the saints, with martyrs

of my childhood meant to instruct me

in the power of endurance and faith,

to hell with the next world and its pallid angels

swooning and sighing like Victorian girls.

I want this world. I want to walk into

the ocean and feel it trying to drag me along

like I’m nothing but a broken bit of scratched glass,

and I want to resist it. I want to go

staggering and flailing my way

through the bars and back rooms,

through the gleaming hotels and weedy

lots of abandoned sunflowers and the parks

where dogs are let off their leashes

in spite of the signs, where they sniff each

other and roll together in the grass, I want to

lie down somewhere and suffer for love until

it nearly kills me, and then I want to get up again

and put on that little black dress and wait

for you, yes you, to come over her

and get down on your knees and tell me

just how fucking good I look.

Izumi Shikibu (?974-?1034)

‘Come quickly’

Come quickly – as soon as

these blossoms open,

they fall.

This world exists

as a sheen of dew on flowers.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

‘I wish I could remember that first day’

Era gia l’ora che volge il desio. – Dante

Ricorro al tempo ch’io vi vidi prima. – Petrarca

I wish I could remember that first day, 

First hour, first moment of your meeting me,

If bright or dim the season, it might be

Summer or Winter for aught I can say;

So unrecorded did it slip away,

So blind was I to see and to foresee,

So dull to mark the budding of my tree

That would not blossom yet for many a May.

If only I could recollect it, such

A day of days! I let it come and go

As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;

It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

If only now I could recall that touch,

First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!



Come to me in the silence of the night;

Come in the speaking silence of a dream;

Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright

As sunlight on a stream;

Come back in tears,

O memory, hope, love of finished years.

Oh dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,

Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,

Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;

Where thirsting longing eyes

Watch the slow door

That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live

My very life again tho’ cold in death:

Come back to me in dreams, that I may give

Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:

Speak low, lean low,

As long ago, my love, how long ago.

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941)

trans. Elaine Feinstein

 ‘Where does this tenderness come from?’

 Where does this tenderness come from?

These are not the – first curls I

have stroked slowly – and lips I

have known are – darker than yours

as stars rise often and go out again

(where does this tenderness come from?)

so many eyes have risen and died out

in front of these eyes of mine.

and yet no such song have

I heard in the darkness of night before,

(where does this tenderness come from?):

here, on the ribs of the singer.

Where does this tenderness come from?

And what shall I do with it, young

sly singer, just passing by?

Your lashes are – longer than anyone’s.

Jamaica Kincaid (1949 – )

‘Girl’ (technically a short story but…)

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions; don’t eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don’t pick people’s flowers—you might catch something; don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

 Katherine Philips (1631 – 1664)

‘To Mrs M.A. Upon Absence’

’Tis now since I began to die 

Four months, yet still I gasping live; 

Wrapp’d up in sorrow do I lie, 

Hoping, yet doubting a reprieve. 

Adam from Paradise expell’d 

Just such a wretched being held. 

’Tis not thy love I fear to lose, 

That will in spite of absence hold; 

But ’tis the benefit and use 

Is lost, as in imprison’d gold: 

Which though the sum be ne’er so great, 

Enriches nothing but conceit. 

What angry star then governs me 

That I must feel a double smart, 

Prisoner to fate as well as thee; 

Kept from thy face, link’d to thy heart? 

Because my love all love excels, 

Must my grief have no parallels? 

Sapless and dead as Winter here 

I now remain, and all I see 

Copies of my wild state appear, 

But I am their epitome. 

Love me no more, for I am grown 

Too dead and dull for thee to own.


Linda Pastan (1932 – )

‘Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: After Nazim Hikmet’

I always knew I loved the sky,

the way it seems solid and insubstantial at the same time;

the way it disappears above us

even as we pursue it in a climbing plane,

like wishes or answers to certain questions—always out of reach;

the way it embodies blue,

even when it is gray.

But I didn’t know I loved the clouds,

those shaggy eyebrows glowering

over the face of the sun.

Perhaps I only love the strange shapes clouds can take,

as if they are sketches by an artist

who keeps changing her mind.

Perhaps I love their deceptive softness,

like a bosom I’d like to rest my head against

but never can.

And I know I love the grass, even as I am cutting it as short

as the hair on my grandson’s newly barbered head.

I love the way the smell of grass can fill my nostrils

with intimations of youth and lust;

the way it stains my handkerchief with meanings

that never wash out.

Sometimes I love the rain, staccato on the roof,

and always the snow when I am inside looking out

at the blurring around the edges of parked cars

and trees. And I love trees,

in winter when their austere shapes

are like the cutout silhouettes artists sell at fairs

and in May when their branches

are fuzzy with growth, the leaves poking out

like new green horns on a young deer.

But how about the sound of trains,

those drawn-out whistles of longing in the night,

like coyotes made of steam and steel, no color at all,

reminding me of prisoners on chain gangs I’ve only seen

in movies, defeated men hammering spikes into rails,

the burly guards watching over them?

Those whistles give loneliness and departure a voice.

It is the kind of loneliness I can take in my arms, tasting 

of tears that comfort even as they burn, dampening the pillows 

and all the feathers of all the geese who were plucked to fill


Perhaps I embrace the music of departure—song without lyrics,

so I can learn to love it, though I don’t love it now.

For at the end of the story, when sky and clouds and grass,

and even you my love of so many years,

have almost disappeared,

it will be all there is left to love.

 Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

 ‘The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point’


I stand on the mark beside the shore

Of the first white pilgrim’s bended knee,

Where exile turned to ancestor,

And God was thanked for liberty.

I have run through the night, my skin is as dark,

I bend my knee down on this mark . . .

I look on the sky and the sea.



O pilgrim-souls, I speak to you!

I see you come out proud and slow

From the land of the spirits pale as dew

And round me and round me ye go!

O pilgrims, I have gasped and run

All night long from the whips of one

Who in your names works sin and woe.



And thus I thought that I would come

And kneel here where I knelt before,

And feel your souls around me hum

In undertone to the ocean’s roar;

And lift my black face, my black hand,

Here, in your names, to curse this land

Ye blessed in freedom’s evermore.



I am black, I am black;

And yet God made me, they say.

But if He did so, smiling back

He must have cast His work away

Under the feet of His white creatures,

With a look of scorn, that the dusky features

Might be trodden again to clay.



And yet He has made dark things

To be glad and merry as light.

There’s a little dark bird sits and sings;

There’s a dark stream ripples out of sight;

And the dark frogs chant in the safe morass,

And the sweetest stars are made to pass

O’er the face of the darkest night.



But we who are dark, we are dark!

Ah, God, we have no stars!

About our souls in care and cark

Our blackness shuts like prison bars:

The poor souls crouch so far behind,

That never a comfort can they find

By reaching through the prison-bars.



Indeed, we live beneath the sky,

That great smooth Hand of God, stretched out

On all His children fatherly,

To bless them from the fear and doubt,

Which would be, if, from this low place,

All opened straight up to His face

Into the grand eternity.



And still God’s sunshine and His frost,

They make us hot, they make us cold,

As if we were not black and lost:

And the beasts and birds, in wood and fold,

Do fear and take us for very men!

Could the weep-poor-will or the cat of the glen

Look into my eyes and be bold?



I am black, I am black!

But, once, I laughed in girlish glee,

For one of my colour stood in the track

Where the drivers drove, and looked at me,

And tender and full was the look he gave –

Could a slave look so at another slave? –

I look at the sky and the sea.



And from that hour our spirits grew

As free as if unsold, unbought:

Oh, strong enough, since we were two

To conquer the world, we thought!

The drivers drove us day by day;

We did not mind, we went one way,

And no better a liberty sought.



In the sunny ground between the canes,

He said ‘I love you’ as he passed;

When the shingle-roof rang sharp with the rains,

I heard how he vowed it fast:

While others shook, he smiled in the hut

As he carved me a bowl of the cocoa-nut,

Through the roar of the hurricanes.



I sang his name instead of a song,

Over and over I sang his name,

Upward and downward I drew it along

My various notes; the same, the same!

I sang it low, that the slave-girls near

Might never guess from aught they could hear,

It was only a name – a name.



I look on the sky and the sea.

We were two to love, and two to pray:

Yes, two, O God, who cried to Thee,

Though nothing didst Thou say.

Coldly Thou sat’st behind the sun!

And now I cry who am but one,

Thou wilt not speak to-day.



We were black, we were black!

We had no claim to love and bliss,

What marvel, if each went to wrack?

They wrung my cold hands out of his,

They dragged him – where? I crawled to touch

His blood’s mark in the dust! . . . not much,

Ye pilgrim-souls, though plain as this!



Wrong, followed by a deeper wrong!

Mere grief’s too good for such as I:

So the white men brought the shame ere long

To strangle the sob of my agony.

They would not leave me for my dull

Wet eyes! – it was too merciful

To let me weep pure tears and die.



I am black, I am black!

I wore a child upon my breast

An amulet that hung too slack,

And, in my unrest, could not rest:

Thus we went moaning, child and mother,

One to another, one to another,

Until all ended for the best:



For hark! I will tell you low, low,

I am black, you see, –

And the babe who lay on my bosom so,

Was far too white, too white for me;

As white as the ladies who scorned to pray

Beside me at church but yesterday;

Though my tears had washed a place for my knee.



My own, own child! I could not bear

To look in his face, it was so white.

I covered him up with a kerchief there;

I covered his face in close and tight:

And he moaned and struggled, as well might be,

For the white child wanted his liberty–

Ha, ha! he wanted his master right.



He moaned and beat with his head and feet,

His little feet that never grew –

He struck them out, as it was meet,

Against my heart to break it through.

I might have sung and made him mild –

But I dared not sing to the white-faced child

The only song I knew.



I pulled the kerchief very close:

He could not see the sun, I swear,

More, then, alive, than now he does

From between the roots of the mango . . . where?

I know where. Close! A child and mother

Do wrong to look at one another,

When one is black and one is fair.



Why, in that single glance I had

Of my child’s face, . . . I tell you all,

I saw a look that made me mad!

The master’s look, that used to fall

On my soul like his lash . . . or worse!

And so, to save it from my curse,

I twisted it round in my shawl.



And he moaned and trembled from foot to head,

He shivered from head to foot;

Till, after a time, he lay instead

Too suddenly still and mute.

I felt, beside, a stiffening cold:

I dared to lift up just a fold,

As in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit.



But my fruit . . . ha, ha! – there, had been

(I laugh to think on’t at this hour!)

Your fine white angels, (who have seen

Nearest the secret of God’s power)

And plucked my fruit to make them wine,

And sucked the soul of that child of mine,

As the humming-bird sucks the soul of the flower.



Ha, ha, for the trick of the angels white!

They freed the white child’s spirit so.

I said not a word, but, day and night,

I carried the body to and fro;

And it lay on my heart like a stone, as chill.

– The sun may shine out as much as he will:

I am cold, though it happened a month ago.



From the white man’s house, and the black man’s hut,

I carried the little body on,

The forest’s arms did round us shut,

And silence through the trees did run:

They asked no question as I went,

They stood too high for astonishment,

They could see God sit on His throne.



My little body, kerchiefed fast,

I bore it on through the forest, on;

And when I felt it was tired at last,

I scooped a hole beneath the moon:

Through the forest-tops the angels far,

With a white sharp finger from every star,

Did point and mock at what was done.



Yet when it was all done aright, – 

Earth, ‘twixt me and my baby, strewed, –

All, changed to black earth, . . . nothing white, –

A dark child in the dark,- ensued

Some comfort, and my heart grew young;

I sate down smiling there and sung

The song I learnt in my maidenhood.



And thus we two were reconciled,

The white child and black mother, thus;

For, as I sang it, soft and wild

The same song, more melodious,

Rose from the grave whereon I sate:

It was the dead child singing that,

To join the souls of both of us.



I look on the sea and the sky.

Where the pilgrims’ ships first anchored lay,

The free sun rideth gloriously,

But the pilgrim-ghosts have slid away

Through the earliest streaks of the morn:

My face is black, but it glares with a scorn

Which they dare not meet by day.



Ah!–in their ‘stead, their hunter sons!

Ah, ah! they are on me – they hunt in a ring!

Keep off! I brave you all at once,

I throw off your eyes like snakes that sting!

You have killed the black eagle at nest, I think:

Did you never stand still in your triumph, and shrink

From the stroke of her wounded wing?



(Man, drop that stone you dared to lift! -)

I wish you, who stand there five a-breast,

Each, for his own wife’s joy and gift,

A little corpse as safely at rest

As mine in the mangos! Yes, but she

May keep live babies on her knee,

And sing the song she liketh best.



I am not mad: I am black.

I see you staring in my face –

I know you, staring, shrinking back,

Ye are born of the Washington-race,

And this land is the free America,

And this mark on my wrist – (I prove what I say)

Ropes tied me up here to the flogging-place.



You think I shrieked then? Not a sound!

I hung, as a gourd hangs in the sun.

I only cursed them all around,

As softly as I might have done

My very own child!–From these sands

Up to the mountains, lift your hands,

O slaves, and end what I begun!



Whips, curses; these must answer those!

For in this Union, you have set

Two kinds of men in adverse rows,

Each loathing each: and all forget

The seven wounds in Christ’s body fair,

While HE sees gaping everywhere

Our countless wounds that pay no debt.



Our wounds are different. Your white men

Are, after all, not gods indeed,

Nor able to make Christs again

Do good with bleeding. We who bleed

(Stand off!) we help not in our loss!

We are too heavy for our cross,

And fall and crush you and your seed.



I fall, I swoon! I look at the sky.

The clouds are breaking on my brain;

I am floated along, as if I should die

Of liberty’s exquisite pain.

In the name of the white child, waiting for me

In the death-dark where we may kiss and agree,

White men, I leave you all curse-free

In my broken heart’s disdain!


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