To: All Poets
From: Northeastern North Carolina
It’s just getting hot,
dogwoods showering our shoulders with flowers.
I saw dead baby birds on a trail
so I know new life has arrived
lost in the survival of pine and ash. I’ll say it plainly—
we need you down here.
Yesterday, my uncle put a nail through his thumb
working for the same white man he’s worked for since sixth grade.
Last night his blood fell on the bathroom floor and made a star
he couldn’t follow.
He needs to hear your poems.
Field Notes on Beginning
they each had a decision before them. In this, they were not unlike anyone who ever longed to cross the Atlantic or the Rio Grande.
Isabel Wilkerson, from The Warmth of Other Suns
I wear my grandmother’s wing-ready bones
like a blue unbuttoned housedress
through the city of festivals and fireworks that blow up in a one cloud sky
Some nights the block tells me all its problems
The city becomes one mouth its tongue pointed to the sky like a steeple
I’ll meet you at the hanging tree in Rolesville in 1957
I’ll be the man in his father’s hat
you be women back from the dead we’ve decided
a long time ago the question is not how
can black people pray to Jesus? It’s how can white people?
I’ll meet you on a train headed to Queens
just tell me where I promise to gather your bones
only for good I was not touched by the darkness
between two buildings I stayed in the moonlight
like you told your daughter to tell me
I don’t want to die
in the south like so many of mine
I want to be carried back
We were digging in a field you’d turned over
When you lifted the soil in your hands you knew its name
This is what you said was mercy ground
that I was safe here and I began digging again
I saw every lover who once held you
while your children slept
in rooms of so many blankets
one small fire for everyone
the blankets wrapped so tight
no cold could get in
Leaving is necessary some say
There is a whole ocean between you and a home
you can’t fix your tongue to speak
Others do not want me no farther than the length of a small yard
They ask Where are you going, Tyree? Your mama here
you’ve got stars in your eyes a ship in your movement
I said my few-note goodbyes my dead will not come
I will not see a cardinal in the city
so I drew one on my chest
A coop inside a coop inside of me
(Both poems are from his book Cardinal, from Copper Canyon Press, 2020. http://www.tyree.work/)