National Poetry Month Day 24: Tyehimba Jess


Sissieretta Jones, Carnegie Hall, 1902:
O patria mia.

Aida, buried in the darkness
of her fate. Aida, singing
in the tomb of her lover.
Her lover a notion pale as
the aria circling from her mouth.Aida, lowered into the pit
cloaked in breath’s ocean,
a war inside her voice.
A battle of tongues sung doloroso,
the husk of shadow on air.
With the soar of her father’s
sermon for truth. With the burn
of nigger heaven. With the hum
of oceans wrapped in bone.
With the legacy of bones
wrapped in ocean. With a national
healing hogtied to song.
Let me hum it to you sweet
with vivace; let me scrape it into
our history. Let my voice turn
its scarred back on you.
Let my skin disappear
to cover you whole.
Let my molten song be
your blessing of ash.
Let the ash cover all
our faces. Let ash be
the secret that masters
itself. Let the curtain rise
upon the hidden face.
Let the spotlight burn
to purify need. Nail down
the lockbox of spirituals
inside my throat. Bury
them in opera’s echo
of grandeur. Resurrect the holy
grind of tremolo and tradition.
Let the key be infinite.
Let the coon song scatter.
Let each mouth be envy.
Let bloodlines be muddied.
I stand solo in this country
of concert. I am multitudes
of broken chains. I am Aida
with war on her lips.
I am Aida against drowning
in all that summons her alive.
I bear the crescendo
of ocean inside me.
I carry its bones inside
my attack. I am a wave
reaching beyond this shore.
Let this belting be our
unbinding. Let o bring
the sound of all our wanting.
Let patria speak the names
of all my fathers.
Let the curtain rise
to show the face that is
known. Let the country
be mine. Let the country
be mine. Let this country
be mine.

–Tyehimba Jess


Tyehimba Jess is the author of leadbelly (Wave Books), winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series and Olio (Wave Books), which Nikky Finney calls a “21st century hymnal of black evolutionary poetry, this almanac, this theatrical melange of miraculous meta-memory.” Olio has received advanced praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, NPR Books and Brooklyn Magazine.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →