National Poetry Month Day 24: Ariana Benson





Boll Weevil’s Theodicy

A white southerner told of hearing a black man from Georgia singing while working on a road construction project in North Carolina. The words of the song were simple, almost like a nursery rhyme: 

Boll weevil here, boll weevil there,
boll weevil everywhere;
Oh, Lordy, ain’t I glad!

What caught the white man’s attention and disturbed him was that the black man seemed genuinely glad. There was, he said, ‘a note of genuine gladness, almost of exultation in the voice singing it, not unlike the note one hears between lines in the Old Testament songs of Jews triumphing over the downfall of their enemies. It seemed a song of emancipation.’

— from “The Strange Affair of the Boll Weevil: The Pest as Liberator” by Dr. Arvarh E. Strickland

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1922


Don’t evil exist to remind men of their weakness?
Didn’t I dent the Devil’s chin, gnaw them holes in his pockets?
And wasn’t I summoned to make white men believe

that though they may own land, they live at Your mercy?
Didn’t I bend stubborn knees, twist necks towards a new green
god? Remind evil men how their weak existence

can be crushed to pulp under Your heaven-high boot? 
Wasn’t it pestilence, six-legged blackness smotherin’ all 
the white sky, that first made men into believers? 

Or was it Moses himself, burnin’ bushes from the inside—
and if so, ain’t I the flame? Or the serpent, fearsome mark 
of evil, and so, of your existence? To remind men of their weakness,

didn’t I, a wretched li’l thing, pen my own Exodus, the Mississippi 
my Red Sea? Hitch squalls upriver and rain down like blessings,
like white manna? God on high, what else can I believe

now, as I lay on my back, dying, as all we evils do?
What is my gluttony if not proof that You, my Lord, 
are good? And who better to remind evil of its weaknesses
than a hell-sent pest even white men believe has none?





Author photo courtesy of the author

Ariana Benson was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Their debut collection, Black Pastoral, won the 2022 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from University of Georgia Press in September 2023. A recipient of the Furious Flower Poetry Prize, Benson's poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness. More from this author →