Artress Bethany White

Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Artress Bethany White





A Black Doe in the Anthropocene
        after Buffalo and Uvalde

I only wanted to see the plantation where my forebears trod,
place my feet in the footprints of enslaved lives
Let’s just walk through the woods to see it
I whispered, in a flash forgetting the nature of guns
and people in towns where weapons are primed
in every room, under pillows, in picture frames
beyond the limpid gaze of a pair of deer eyes.

Forgetting, as soon as my sneakers
sifted needled pine
I would become a black doe
in the Anthropocene
fighting to see without being seen.

And when the landowner appeared
in a black pickup truck
draped in camo to defend his property,
I felt the “ask” of a peek at manor history
die in my chest like payback unpaid.

What is it about camouflage and tactical gear
that recalls white sheets and a racist’s deadly sneer.

Breaking News woos with pain
but there is no romance in the sound
of a body hitting the floor
or children crying behind a closed door.
No intellect in the mechanics of a gun,
or two young men counting bodies
making life a video game for fun.
The only prize here, their own demise;
tok tik with nothing to remit.
A high school and college dropout
stealing grandmothers, grandfathers,
children and dreams. Then a boy
pauses to tell me young men now think
college is a waste of time and my mind
screams, and screams, and screams.

My ancestors lived through the Middle Passage
the breeding of their bodies and the crack
of cowhide. Were weaned on seeing their
own mothers’ breasts in the mouths of
children who didn’t drop from between
their raised brown knees. Swallowed
venom clogging their throats mingled
with dust under burning suns and now
students can’t study the pages of race
history, our only survival legacy.
If those ancestors were here today to speak
truth to this murderous shame, the words
would roll through the trees and over the plains
Behold the lilies, throw down the guns,
Behold the lilies, throw down the guns.



Runners: A Ghazal for Our Times
           for Ahmaud Arbery

Frederick Douglass dashed without giving names—no shame,
certain more would follow his runner’s game.

Our journeys cross at the Chesapeake Bay
waves lapping libation in that runner’s game.

Harriet Jacobs fled gran’s attic past Doc Flint’s hands,
enslaved girl’s tale of her own runner’s game.

Sally Hemings’s kin were freed under mama’s gaze,
more akin to a mosey than a true runner’s game.

Harken to dark days a continent away
bodies stolen, shipped & stripped runner’s game.

And now Artress born free while Ahmaud got treed
white men in a pickup shouting Black criminal! runner’s game.

Ole boys tout race pride, suck breath out Black hides,
make justice a running Black man’s endgame.





Author photograph courtesy of Artress Bethany White

Artress Bethany White, associate professor of English at East Stroudsburg University, is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. She is the recipient of the Trio Award for her poetry collection My Afmerica: poems (Trio House Press, 2019). Her essay collection, Survivor’s Guilt: Essays on Race and American Identity, received a 2022 Next Generation Finalist Indie Book Award. Her prose and poetry have appeared in such journals as Harvard Review, POETRY, The Hopkins Review, and Kweli. Recent work appears in the anthology Why I Wrote This Poem: 62 Poets on Creativity and Craft. She is nonfiction editor for the literary magazine Pangyrus. Her author website is More from this author →