Janice N. Harrington | Poetry

  1. We visit a community of Black farmers south of Chicago to conduct interviews and walk the trails of the Nature Conservancy. We talk of race. Losing our way, we approach by another route from the south. Spring fields in every direction: rows and rows of black.
  1. Flat. Clouds set like table runners over bare fields. Rain predicted. An endless invisible present going on, says Giscombe.
  1. Our second interviewee, a Black farmer, spoke of outsiders on ATVs racing over low swells, the rut and ruin of ancient sand. She spoke of unwatched fires, of weekenders with glocks, semi-automatics, shotguns. . . . She spoke of strays flung from car windows, of poachers digging up rare plants and setting traps. She said they even steal our snakes.
  1. Emerald green, gold-feathered shoulders shot with ribbons of onyx: when was rooster ever the right word? Better cock or cockerel, better silkie. This is what light would look like, if it could strut.
  1. At Hopkins Park, I met a Black midwestern farmer: tall, stately, she modeled once. Ma’am, she said, because I was the elder: this respect, this endless invisible Blackness: meaning, I see you. Her courtesy: I see you.
  1. Voracious roots and fish shit. A labyrinth of pvc pipes reshaped into a hydroponic agricultural hydration and growth system: raising produce for the Chicago suburbs.
  1. Goldfish swimming in black water.
  1. In memory’s pond a glint of koi and one black catfish. [Story: Sun and Moon asked to send away their children—too bright, too hot, too many. Sun turned her children into fish and sent them to swim in the waters of the earth. But Moon could not, would not. Why not hide them? Listen, Child, listen. Come out only at night. Babies as pale-skinned as their moon mother. So many, so many. The sun is still angry.]
  1. Giscombe writes

memory divides, then itself dogs
all the shapes at once, the dense edges of them,
the empty hearts . . .

  1. Dog-maimed, this ewe hobbles on three legs. The kid butts and pushes its nose against her teat. The wrenched and injured leg, held up, will not bear her weight. The kid suckles, pulls and pulls at the rubbery nipple.
  1. Black boughs, rain-black leaves. The trail abandoned, overgrown.
  1. What of the endless invisible ongoing past? The way it dogs and herds these fleeting moments?
  1. A cicada shell clings to the trunk of a black oak. Filled with light (a lantern), filled with rain (a chalice), filled with dust (you know the answer, admit you know it).
  1. If I choose not to say impoverished or disadvantaged? If I don’t say third-world or poorest in the nation? Is the lack of running water or a flush toilet poverty or wealth? Theory projects its shadows, directs the light.
  1. They said—quiet, that they loved the quiet. But who would allow a Black woman to crave silence? To find succor or solace or shelter in quietude? Hush child, hush. Let the noise pass you over.
  1. A lark sparrow whistles pip-pip-pip. The light resounds, reports, repeats its ringing.
  1. In the children’s section, the librarian showed us her collage, images reassembled from old magazines: a pomegranate blossom and blackberry petals pinned to a Black girl’s hair.
  1. Black oaks. Black limbs grasping all that blue, lifting it high and higher, refusing to let go, refusing to lose anything more.
  1. Each landscape, Giscombe argues, has a black edge to it. What makes the blackness here? The road, the bark of a black oak, a Black woman’s eye, the charred carcass of a single-wide?
  1. Some sort of black thing, Giscombe writes, an edge that permeates, a tincture that makes landscape itself black. . . . Something that’d permit the speaker into the landscape.
  1. Haven’t these black oaks or the Black cowgirl, bearing the American standard around a corral in a rural township granted you permission?
  1. Mulberries, wild plums, blackberries—sweetness carried in sparrow’s gut and shat here. How do you know it wasn’t the sparrow’s song, and not the sparrow’s shitting, that sowed the berry?
  1. How to measure poverty? Can I know by looking at, or looking from, or looking over?
  1. Everywhere, the sand thatched with wild strawberries. Where to step? And the story she told. Her son’s insistence: They didn’t need a radio, already had music. Cicadas. Bees. A Towhee’s Drink your tea! Drink your tea!
  1. In Pembroke, a woman walks beside a gravel road, plucking blackberries from roadside canes. Black fingers stained with purple ink, writing what and where they will.