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I Wanted to Place an Ocean

ISSUE:  Winter 2019

The fields of Rolesville belong to my kinfolk, dead and alive. 

                                                          I told my uncle’s ghost 

don’t waste your time haunting white folks who owe you money, 

we all have different ways 

                    we come to know red clay. 


I began in fields near pines where we laughed and fired fish.

                    If someone were to sing, it would grow through each ghost 

                    and be heard as geese crossing overhead. 

The dead only know 
           the work they have done. 

I’ve never had to work cotton or tobacco 

or pull small green worms from my hands. I only played 

           in harvested fields, in one I’d be in Harlem—

a whole row my block, the oak way off a skyscraper 

                                           I looked up into for myself. 


When people let the cotton sleep there were no vacations,

I don’t know if my great-great-grandparents ever saw the ocean,

                                                     or fell asleep on the beach.


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