John Beecher, “If I Forget Thee, O Birmingham!


Like Florence from your mountain.
Both cast your poets out
for speaking plain.



You bowl your bombs down aisles
where black folk kneel
to pray for your blacker souls.



Dog-town children bled
A, B, O, AB as you.
Christ’s blood is not more red.



Burning my house to keep
them out, you sowed wind. Hear it blow!
Soon you reap.


Maggie Nelson, “Written Deer”

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
                           —Wisława Szymborska

My handwriting is all over these woods. 
No, my handwriting is these woods,

each tree a half-print, half-cursive scrawl, 
each loop a limb. My house is somewhere 
here, & I have scribbled myself inside it.

What is home but a book we write, then 
read again & again, each time dog-earing

different pages. In the morning I wake 
in time to pencil the sun high. How 
fragile it is, the world—I almost wrote

the word but caught myself. Either one 
could be erased. In these written woods,

branches smudge around me whenever 
I take a deep breath. Still, written fawns 
lie in the written sunlight that dapples

their backs. What is home but a passage
I’m writing & underlining every time I read it.


Afaa Michael Weaver, “Scrapple”

It was cousin Alvin who stole the liquor,
slipped down Aunt Mabie’s steps on the ice,
fresh from jail for some small crime.
Alvin liked to make us laugh while he took
the liquor or other things we did not see,
in Aunt Mabie’s with her floors polished,
wood she polished on her hands and knees
until they were truth itself and slippery
enough to trick you, Aunt Mabie who loved
her Calvert Extra and loved the bright inside
of family, the way we come connected in webs,
born in clusters of promises, dotted
with spots that mark our place in the karma
of good times, good times in the long ribbon 
of being colored I learned when colored
had just given way to Negro and Negro was
leaving us because blackness chased it out
of the house, made it slip on the ice, fall
down and spill N-e-g-r-o all over the sidewalk
until we were proud in a new avenue of pride,
as thick as the scrapple on Saturday morning
with King syrup, in the good times, between
the strikes and layoffs at the mills when work
was too slack, and Pop sat around pretending
not to worry, not to let the stream of sweat
he wiped from his head be anything except
the natural way of things, keeping his habits,
the paper in his chair by the window, the radio
with the Orioles, with Earl Weaver the screamer
and Frank Robinson the gentle black man,
keeping his habits, Mama keeping hers,
the WSID gospel in the mornings, dusting
the encyclopedias she got from the A&P,
collecting the secrets of neighbors, holding
marriages together, putting golden silence
on children who took the wrong turns, broke
the laws of getting up and getting down
on your knees. These brittle things we call
memories rise up, like the aroma of scrapple,
beauty and ugliness, life’s mix
where the hard and painful things from folk
who know no boundaries live beside
the bright eyes that look into each other,
searching their pupils for paths to prayer.