Poems by Keisha-Gaye Anderson

June 2023


Mother thought she could hide us inside
whiteness, that forgetting the past we
would be safe from the beast that devours
the best of what we are, its long mouth
stretching across oceans and generations
to confine bodies as house girl   helper   
nanny   day’s worker   laborer

She thought we could start fresh
in Americanness, but we were really cuckoo eggs,
big, and so, so blue. Smuggled into a nest
not made for us. Two of these things
are not like the others.

Girls, you are now other, stretching up into life, solitary,
in search of a story about where you started, depending
on the hospitality of strangers to name all the feelings
you were told to forget.

She said it was good here. She said, “In this country, Ah never
guh to bed hungry yet.” But we hungered for a floodlight
to burn off the fog of constant confusion overcast our lives.

Her body braced for danger on every corner as she looped stories
about all di wickid people, lawd have mercy . . .
Then changed the subject, hid inside sleep, a signal for us to forget
about a too-small concrete cube, lashings that let blood for every
misstep, a boy with an ice pick prying through the roof, and scandal
upon scandal. “What won’t a big, dirty man do?”

But the story of us is alive, won’t be smothered, won’t allow us
to forget. Us new-world birds still looking for our own nest.
We fly in our dreams to worlds mapped in our bones, pulled by the need
to know who all make we, truly. Truth trickles up through the skin,
the throat, the aching back. We must act.

Them that is we will not let us forget, want us to know they are the doorway
through which we see, want us to look at the whole thing, find the names
that turn a key to the place where we are not alone, the path
to find our way home, whole.

Mama Lovie
born in 1898

This one will be bright, she say,
swaying with di fat red baby on her jagged hip
under cool Kingston verandah

Mama Lovie, a tall and lean bamboo
Fulani face lost at sea,
skin all midnight and sinew by then
hair, a silver halo parted and pulled back neat
keep the great-grandbaby close

This little one not gon be like dem wild leggobeast
deh bout di yard
who nuh have no ambition
She nuh go be fool fool pickney

This one will win the scholarship
won’t wear no red dirt covered shoes
or answer to first name or
come here or
stupid fool or
no! no! no! or
useless black gyal

She won’t pick up after English children
who are always Master and Missus
when they call her Iris
Won’t bring home the bread ends they don’t want
so there can be S.O.S.— “Save Our Souls”—
dinner for the 10 here now
who always want/need
and sleep head-to-foot in two rooms

No, dis little baby won’t push and squeeze onto dutty Kingston bus
in frayed, sun-bleached dress
just to go scrub floors into senility,
collect a pittance and then
be cast out one day like a racehorse
ready to become glue

No, dis girl gon leave di tenement yard,
for good

Re-member You

The holes in you that you can’t see
become a cliff you fall over into despair
a puddle you walk through into resentment
a fire you stumble through into rage
and you wreck yourself walking through the dark
looking for a way that ends in definite answers
the why, the how of this body

If only the echo voice from red dirt hills,
cool springs, and spinning masquerades
could reach your ear just to say,
“Go that way”

But you are an ocean away
and generations deep into forgetfulness
the absence of, the longing for,
a home you never knew
a purpose, a reason to be
is the anchor you need to stay in this life
and rise beyond being somebody’s little helper
a wage slave worker

The map to the missing parts of you
is the axe you need to build a path for your children
shore them up into a sturdy life
with direction and purpose

But you can only stand still and pretend you don’t feel
the absence of something you can’t name
and you feed those holes with food   busy   angry
because it feels useful,
feasts on the time

But until you step inside those voids,
you won’t know how to heal them shut

Just listen

The wind has a story
the candle paints a picture
the water remembers for you

You will

Keisha-Gaye Anderson is a Jamaican-born poet, writer, and visual artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of Gathering the Waters (Jamii, 2014), Everything Is Necessary (Willow Books, 2019), and A Spell for Living (Agape, 2020). Keisha is a past participant of the VONA Voices and Callaloo writing workshops and was short-listed for the 2010 Small Axe Literary Competition. In 2018, she was selected as a Brooklyn Public Library Artist in Residence. Keisha holds an MFA in creative writing from The City College, City University of New York. Learn more about her at www.keishagaye.ink.

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