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.