by McKenzie Chinn
there are treasures at the bottom of the Atlantic
that no explorer will unsubmerge.
my friends who speak so casually of their heritage do not
understand this how i understand this.
they point to pictures and paperwork and tales
from grandmothers’ tongue that shout Ireland!
shout Italy! shout conquistador!
shout viking! now,
i don’t need to spring from vikings,
but i’d like to trace the map of my veins
farther than the miles between here and Alabama;
i’d like to know my people before their bracelets were iron
and their markings were brands, and i want these stories
from the mouth of my mother’s mother’s
mother, and back
even farther than that, and
i can only imagine what evaporated
into the air or sank like stone between coasts –
names, gods, language, children –
can only imagine as there is no mouth, no record
but those kept by birds and clouds and fish,
and i am left here, no country
for my mouth to hold, African somehow, American i’m told,
and black in a land my veins never chose.