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Recorded as part of the Poem-a-Day series, December 16, 2015.
About this Poem 

“In West African Societies, the naming ritual is essential to the identity of a child, connecting her to the culture in which she was born. In this poem, the speaker grieves her lost African name, one that might have been given to her, if her ancestors had not been slaves.  The geographical locations—Benin, Biafra, etc.—represent some of the busiest slave ports, the ‘points of no return’ for the estimated fifteen million kidnapped Africans who were taken from their homelands, sold as slaves, and then, forced to travel the Middle Passage. The italicized lines in the poem are taken from Lance Jeffers’s poem ‘The Flesh of the Young Men Is Burning.’”
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Naming Ceremony

for Jerry Ward, Jr.

Shallow curve of the land
between master and owned
I have dismissed you until I come
upon kin     Since time my jaws
have collected accusations
from memory     No logic
grinding my teeth     I have not
been sold     The telling of the coppers
between fingers     (Skin)
I think that I have known freedom
This old story and yet I grieve
accented by our home
Your line reaching back
while I search for the cloth
of our mother’s  bodice
My line snapped     My mind
flying home at Ibo Landing
I think that I have known liberty in
the caverns I have lived in

Valley of Senegambia
Coast of Slaves    Gold    Ivory
(Loss)     The mud of the Bights
Benin     Listen to the talk
beaten by a man and his apprentice
a mortgaged youth     My body
lightened     mongreled currency
Biafra     beaten     Hear me
beaten down blood     free
unclaimed by garbled deity
My father’s call tricks
the music of stopped ears
The flesh of the young men is burning
One of us is Cain     the gardener
of perfidy     unblessed by lineage
the flesh of the young men is aglow

Copyright © 2015 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 16, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of the poetry collections The Glory Gets (Wesleyan University Press, 2015); Red Clay Suite (Southern Illinois University Press, 2007); Outlandish Blues (Wesleyan University Press, 2003); and The Gospel of Barbecue (The Kent State University Press, 2000), which was selected by Lucille Clifton for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.

by this poet

I believe that white lady
meant well, but she took liberties
with my story.
There was a pint,
and I am a woman,
but I never did bear
thirteen young.
There was an audience,
and I did stand.
At first, hesitant, but then,
speaking God’s clear
consonants in a voice
that all might hear, not
with apostrophes feeding

for Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-1784)

                                [amnesiac wood]

[nostrils of girls]	        [who was bought]	        [uncle’s hand]
[guts on the air]	        [who was sold]		[defeated man]
[history’s charnel]	        [i say] 	                [trader’s
A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies...Lord M...calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her...

        From The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson,
        August 1779