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Mahogany L. Browne
Mahogany L. Browne

litany

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 25, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘litany’ was written after the anniversary of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free,’ made famous by Nina Simone. And I sat with what that meant, years later—when I am still wishing for a certain type of freedom. To think of the time passing but of senseless deaths of black and brown bodies remaining. The poem was a mulling of all that has changed and all that has not. Injustice has not changed. Poverty has not changed. The idea that I am writing poem to check to mouth/house is no coincidence. And the building on my corner was most certainly burned to the ground, leaving folks homeless. Within two weeks there was talk of building condos. And my neighbors and I, free to watch, stood on the opposite corner of the destroyed building as contractors stomped in and out of the remains. Someone smiled loudly about the ‘new multimillion-dollar building plans.’ And it didn't feel like freedom at all.”
—Mahogany L. Browne

litany

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me —Nina Simone


today i am a black woman in america
& i am singing a melody ridden lullaby
it sounds like:
           the gentrification of a brooklyn stoop
           the rent raised three times my wages
           the bodega and laundromat burned down on the corner
           the people on the corner
                       each lock & key of their chromosomes
                       a note of ash & inquiry on their tongues
 
today i am a black woman in a hopeless state
i will apply for financial aid and food stamps
          with the same mouth i spit poems from
i will ask the angels of a creative god to lessen
          the blows
&  i will beg for forgiveness when i curse
          the rising sun

today, i am a black woman in a body of coal
i am always burning and no one knows my name
i am a nameless fury, i am a blues scratched from
the throat of ms. nina—i am always angry
i am always a bumble hive of hello
i love like this too loudly, my neighbors
think i am an unforgiving bitter
           sometimes, i think my neighbors are right
           most times i think my neighbors are nosey

today, i am a cold country, a storm
brewing, a heat wave of a woman wearing
red pumps to the funeral of my ex-lover’s

today, i am a woman, a brown and black &
brew woman dreaming of freedom

today, i am a mother, & my country is burning
           and i forgot how to flee
from such a flamboyant backdraft
                      —i’m too in awe of how beautiful i look
            on fire

Copyright © 2016 by Mahogany L. Browne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Mahogany L. Browne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

American Poets
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Joy Harjo
poem

[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.
Christina Rossetti
1881
poem

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.  New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety.  We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses.  I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's.  The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars.  And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
Sylvia Plath
1966