Gabrielle Ralambo-Rajerison

On Earth I Was Kept in Water



It was the impossible age of black women

murdered by their boyfriends and husbands


every day we read the news. Impossible

how quickly they became singular to us, each one,


even as their stories repeated. The woman

knifed in broad daylight. The pregnant woman


set on fire. The woman raped, then found

abandoned. We knew exactly what we meant


when, at 1 in the morning, one of us would say

I can’t stop thinking about her. So we stopped


reading the news. We began to behave

as if we didn’t need our lives


to change our lives. We changed our hair.

Slept at all hours of the day. I read somewhere


depressed black women often just say

I’m tired. About nothing in particular,


I kept saying It’s so real. It was surreal.

Numbers I didn’t know kept calling


and when I answered it was a machine’s

voice waiting for me. Or it was a stranger


hoping to extend the conversation

with While I have you here.


I learned to search for my name only

in news stories past. Gabrielle,


who emerged off the coast of Africa.

Gabrielle, who became a cloud over Texas.


Gabrielle, who caused St. John’s

the worst flooding seen in a century.


Gabrielle, who returned an infant

alive in Massachusetts. Gabrielle,


who rarely made landfall

almost always retreating into the sea.

Universe Has No Sense of Direction and isn’t Going Anywhere in Particular, Scientists Confirm



Whenever I see a man with big hands

tie his shoelaces or a freckly brown-skinned woman

narrow her eyes, I think, Thank you, Earth-

bound Earth. Thank you, photosynthesis & photos

of Degas paintings & the smell of onions

in my food. A friend swore God let her breathe

at the bottom of a swimming pool. She wept

in Jerusalem but in her last poem wrote It wasn’t God.

Even so! Atop Britain’s highest mountain, we’ve found

a piano without its keys. Sponges shaped like harps

go about their days underwater devouring meat.

And my mother can hand-make bags out of straw!

I’m even thankful for what I can’t imagine, like cicadas,

which until last week I thought were a kind of red flower

because the word felt like a red flower. Thankful,

too, for the boats that did not sink in the Indian Ocean

but carried my ancestors to one another like ropes

I sometimes turn and other times jump into

talking smack as I leap. Along the earth’s flat circle

I am another circle somersaulting

braids whipping silly down my back.

Thank you, ocean, for washing my face just fine

the afternoon my sister and I walked in.


GABRIELLE RALAMBO-RAJERISON currently works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where other Black people also live.