african, american

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.

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