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t'ai freedom ford
t'ai freedom ford

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Recorded for Poem-a-Day January 22, 2019.
About this Poem 

“This poem actually appears in a chapter of a novel I am working on that considers themes around gentrification and death, grief and mourning. When gentrification happens, folks of color lose the sanctuary that is their hood. They walk the streets of their neighborhood to find new neighbors who don't care to know them but constantly question their existence. So, this poem explores the ways in which black folk who exist and survive are interrogated. It attempts to answer those questions that are both blatantly posed and quietly inferred—not that it's our duty to respond but rather that the reader might wrangle with whether they are the question or the questioner or the questioned or the answer.”
—t’ai freedom ford

Answers

They ask what I believe in—
Sour milk: the curdle & butter of it
Baby’s breath ragged with phlegm 
The green sheen clinging to her skin like algae
The bone & teeth of us mossy and alive with DNA

But what’s your religion, they’re after—
What gods do you pray to?
The frilly curtains of her laughter
remodeling alla my pain
Oh, how she adorns this house of mine

So god’s a woman? (hands on they hips)
How water ain’t a woman 
the way she make your thirst
her temperamental breasts
& everywhere everything everyone everywhichway—water

Well, who your altars honor?
The ghosts that inhabit us
& all the evidence of them:
double vision—floaters flecking 
our periphery when we look away

from the light—all the mouths
at the bottom of our stomach—
Ever wonder why we eat two plates
& still hungry?      Or how our anger
multiplies in seconds like a kitchen

of negro roaches?        Yes, even the roaches
have melanin      black/brown with the spirits
of wayward witches        I burn candles 
& pour brown liquor out for my bitches
& they glorious golden auras

To what churches do you tithe?
Our Lady of Ladled Magnificence
God of Ghetto Grace Incorporated
Our Mother Who Art in Harlem
House of Regurgitated Resurrections

Have you ever been possessed?
We ain’t never not been owned
not with all that restless bone 
sediment at the bottom of the Atlantic
wonder why we frantic with personalities

How we sing with three throats
bending notes weeping willow
What are trees if not spirits
weeping & dancing simultaneous?
How we dipped our nooses in gold

& hung crosses from them 
& wore them like shiny portable altars
How is there not a church in our chests?
How our breasts leak gospel truth
How our teeth ache with the blood of Jesus

Who, then, is your muse? 
(pointing) ain’t she a muse        amusing      
a  maze            amazing       amazon 
of our dreams       prisms that fracture
into auras & auras that fragment dimensions

Isn’t mourning a religion, then?
Like how all these feelings grow 
muscles & flex & jerk inside of me
Like how they can’t kill us even when
they hands scream bloody murder

Like how we show up wearing white
just to spite them—spit at the pulpit
of bullshit & Babylon       How we eat
bibles for breakfast      Leviticus & grits    
Our souls sizzling in the skillet like gizzards

What is the geography of your grief?
Everywhere they are      & ain’t
painting the block milk white  & sickly
a tricky bluish tint   (think: veins under skin)     
a sticky blues      a blush       blood—bluing the block       black

Copyright © 2019 by t'ai freedom ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by t'ai freedom ford. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 22, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

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What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

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Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

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you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
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The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
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You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
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And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step

Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,

The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.

If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:

The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here
If that were so.

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With this knowledge, you never march alone.

You are the breaking news of the century.
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Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise.  But think:

When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—

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And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,

The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:

That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves.  And that’s all we need
To start.  That’s everything we require to keep going. 

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better.  Write books.  Cure disease.
Make us proud.  Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you?  When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

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