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Recorded as part of the Poem-a-Day series, September 28, 2015
About this Poem 

“In many ways this poem is an ode to the smallest sister and her relationship to the land—in this case, the woodlice/rolly pollies in a plot of dirt behind our mother’s house. It’s an ode to the child’s act of caring for something she thought needed her attention. But the poem also laments the older siblings’ loss of tenderness and attention to the earth. The undercurrent here is swirling with a story about the ecological consequences of human migrations and what gets taken with us (with or without our meaning to take things with us), which is also, in the end, a story about history and ‘America.’ This poem wants to look at, think about, and mend a historically inflicted tear between the siblings and the land.”
Aracelis Girmay

The Woodlice

The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. She received a BA from Connecticut College in 1999 and went on to earn an MFA in poetry from New York University.

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2