Poetry and Democracy: Part Two

In conjunction with The Poetry Coalition’s March 2019 joint programming exploring the theme What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy,” The Common presents four weekly features this month, each addressing and extending this national—and international—conversation.

In this, our second installment, we offer Megan Fernandes’s “White People Always Want to Tell Me They Grew Up Poor” and William Brewer’s “Daedelus in Oxyana.”

MEGAN FERNANDES

White People Always Want to Tell Me They Grew Up Poor

White people don’t like when
you say:

white people.

White people
like to remind you
that you are Indian, not black.
Black people
never say that to you.

They make
a home for you

inside
their archives.

It is like an elegy.

Poverty must be
a color

but color
is like sky.

My daddy is a daddy from Africa.
An Indian boy from Tanga.

He is a papa

who stitches
eyes together––

a doctor, the only
one

of his siblings,

seventeen in all,
to really get out

and climb towards

the lands
that enslaved him.

Only white people

can imagine a past
that was better

than now.

Only white people
have

nostalgia.

You grew up rich,they say.
Your daddy is a doctor.

They want me

to possess
their whiteness, too.

They want to
spread

it
outwards
like the tentacles of

a squid.

What they are really
saying is:

How dare you
have what was rightfully mine.

I want to say:
Squid,

my daddy holds storms
from a world youve never seen.

He is a doctor
because being a doctor

was a way to unbury
his dead.

I want to say:
It is not me you hate.

It is that you were
not given what whiteness

promised you–

what your TV said
all white people could have.

My daddy didn’t have a TV.
My daddy is from Africa.

My daddy is not a thing like your daddy.
Our house was not a thing like your house.

Our household was not held by anything

you could name. If you swam in it,
you wouldn’t even know

it was water.

 

WILLIAM BREWER

Daedalus in Oxyana

Was an emperor of element within the mountain’s hull,
chewing out the corridors of coal,

crafting my labyrinth as demanded.
My art: getting lost in the dark.

Now I practice craving;
it’s the only maze I haven’t built myself and can’t dismantle.

I gave my body to the mountain whole.
For my body, the clinic gave out petals inked with curses.

Refill, refill, refill, until they stopped.
Then I fixed on scraping out my veins,

a trembling maze, a skein of blue.
Am lost in them like a bull

that’s wandered into endless, frozen acres.
Times my simple son will shake me to,

syringe still hanging like a feather from my arm.
What are you always doing, he asks.

Flying, I say. Show me how, he begs.
And finally, I do. You’d think

the sun had gotten lost inside his head,
the way he smiled.

 

Megan Fernandes is a poet and academic. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Tin House, among many others. Her second book of poetry, Good Boys, is forthcoming in January 2020 with Tin House Books. She lives in New York City.

William Brewer is the author of I Know Your Kind (Milkweed Editions, 2017), a winner of the National Poetry Series, and Oxyana, a winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 30 and Under Chapbook Fellowship. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, New England Review, The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Sewanee Review, and other journals. Formerly a Stegner Fellow, he is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

 

Poetry and Democracy: Part Two

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