About this poet

Minnie Bruce Pratt was born on September 12, 1946, in Selma, Alabama, and grew up in Centreville. She attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her books of poetry include The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry; Walking Back Up Depot Street (1999), which was named book of the year by ForeWord magazine in the Gay/Lesbian category and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry; Crime Against Nature (1990), which was chosen as the Academy of American Poets' Lamont Poetry Selection, received the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award for Literature; We Say We Love Each Other (1985); and a chapbook, The Sound of One Fork (1981).

For five years she was a member of the editorial collective of Feminary: A Feminist Journal for the South, Emphasizing Lesbian Visions. Together with Elly Bulkin and Barbara Smith, she co-authored Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives On Anti-Semitism and Racism (1988), which has been adopted for classroom use in hundreds of college courses. In 1991 Pratt was chosen, along with lesbian writers Chrystos and Audre Lorde, to receive a Lillian Hellman-Dashiell Hammett award given by the Fund for Free Expression. In 1992 her book of autobiographical and political essays, Rebellion: Essays 1980-1991 (1991), was a finalist in nonfiction for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her book of prose stories about gender boundary crossing, S/HE (1995), was one of five finalists in nonfiction for the 1995 American Library Association Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award, as well as one of three finalists for the Firecracker Award in nonfiction. Pratt has also been granted a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In spring 2000 she was a Community Writer-in-Residence for the YMCA National Writer's Voice Program, and from 2002-2003 she was the Jane Watson Irwin Chair in Women's Studies at Hamilton College. Pratt lives with writer and activist Leslie Feinberg in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The Great Migration

"...paid for at a price which literally staggers humanity.
Imperialism, the exploitation of colored labor throughout the 
world, thrives upon the approval of the United States, and the
United States gives that approval because of the South."
—W. E. B. Du Bois

The third question in Spanish class is: De donde eres tu?
She'd come for brand-new words: las flores rojas, el puente.
To have words like crema de leche on her tongue at least
for a few weeks before tasting the bitter syllables of their history.

How to begin with the young woman next to her asking: Where?
Young enough to be her daughter but—

        The place where you were one of five half-naked children
        playing in the dirt under a porch. There was a yellow dog.
        The place where I was a white girl sitting in a dusty car
        with the window rolled down, looking at you. No word
        to share. That place. That place.

                                              She says, Del Sur.
                The girl replies: We moved up here when I was eight.
                Until last year every dream I had happened there.
                I take my daughter down to see my aunts. She's four.
                Back home she can take her shoes off. The ground's not
                strewn with glass, like here. The dirt's clean, at least.
                Do you have folks, back home?

                                                 From class to home
she tries out her lessons. At the bus stop bench, she sat next to
a man who hated spring, its thunderhead clouds, its green-
leafed rain. At home, he said, there was only sun. In the north
in Chile, rain was somewhere else, not falling everywhere
like sadness here. He'd not been back in twenty years.

        There was him, and the man who hated the cold and the brick factory
        and the one room with fifteen people he couldn't remember. He began
        to walk back to Guatemala. Police picked him up in Texas.
        No soles to the bottom of his shoes. Police stopped him in Mexico.
        Three thousand miles in four months. He'd done it before. His compass
        was walk south, toward warmth, you come to home before the war.

At home there was a dirt track by the paved road, worn down
through pink sundrops and fox grass, an emphatic sentence
written by people walking north to work.

                                          Books called it
The Great Migration, but people are not birds. They have in common
only flight. Now, in the city night, they dream they're caught
in a cloud of dust and grit, looking down at land being shoveled,
furrowed, or burned by huge machines. In the daylight they stand
in line at the post office and buy money orders to send home.

        Beatrice is there to collect a package from her mother. This time
        she's sent onions grown in sandy soil. She says they are sweeter
        than apples, that one will feed a crowd, that they have no bitterness.

                At home their neighbor said: I can tell any county I'm in
                just by smelling the dirt.

                                              Beatrice puts aside five
onion globes shining yellow as lamplight, like the old kerosene
lamp they set in the kitchen for emergencies. She'll give
them to the woman who sits by her in Spanish class, the one
young as a daughter, the one she'd never have known at home.

From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.