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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 25, 2018.
About this Poem 

“After reading Nell Irvin Painter’s Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, I learned that there are two different versions of Sojourner Truth’s powerful speech given at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851. The speech was transcribed by journalist Marius Robinson and printed in the The Anti-Slavery Bugle on June 21, 1851. However, the most famous version of these remarks (known to us as the ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech) was actually written twelve years later by a white woman, Francis Gage, and published on April 23, 1863, in the New York Independent. In addition to arbitrarily using a (supposed) southern black vernacular accent and spelling—Truth was born and reared in New York—Gage drastically altered the content of Truth’s 1851 remarks and included several biographical falsehoods about the activist.”
—Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Prophetess Sojourner Truth Discusses the Two Different Versions of Her Most Well-Known Speech, One Nearly Unknown and One Very Beloved Yet Mostly Untrue

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
on the ends of my words.
And I am six feet tall,
and some might say, broader
than any man.
And I was a slave.
And my child was taken
from me, though I fought
to get him back.
And I did work hard.
And I did suffer long.
And I did find the Lord
and He did keep
me in His bony-chested embrace.
And if I showed you my hands,
instead of hiding them in my sleeves
or in a ball of yarn,
you could see my scars,
the surgery of bondage.
And I have traveled to and fro
to speak my Gospel-talk—
surely, I’ve got the ear of Jesus.
But I forgive that lying woman,
because craving is a natural sin.
She needed somebody
like me to speak for her,
and behave the way
she imagined I did,
so she could imagine
herself as a northern mistress.
And there I was,  
dark and old,
soon to fold my life
into Death’s greedy hand.
And in this land,
and in this time,
somebody who could never
shout her down.

Copyright © 2018 by Honorée Fannone Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Honorée Fannone Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2018, 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.

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for Billie Holiday

There's fairness in changing blood for septet's
guardian rhythm, the horn blossoming
into cadenza. No good pimp's scowl, his
baby's voice ruined sweet for the duration.

Yes, these predictable fifths. O, the blues
is all about slinging those low tales out
the back door (
poem
                   for Chief Black Kettle & the Cheyenne People
I. 2016            
   that journey
 
i was tired
not ready for
a long drive
i live
poem

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