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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 212-213
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for Angelina Weld Grimke and Akasha Hull*
Part 1: In the Family
". . . Who will ever find me / Under the days?"
There is no darkness like a closed door
ornate panels, thick with filigree--soundproof,
Your fair pen finds its mark in the coal black
circle of Boston society. Sheaves of paper-thin custom
threaten to bury you. Fashion father negritude
slip steadily from the pile of demands,
to land on your breast, to press you more firmly
into their muffled folds.
Behind the door you dare to leave whispers
of your precious, stolen breath, desire
for "her of the cruel lips," a fragment unrequited,
evidence of unruly passion and wild sadness
in the strain to press your mouth
to the hem of her skirt.
Who decides which mouth speaks truth,
whose lips deserve to sense the yield
of another's? It is 1920--
Uptown bands are playing
Women are dancing in starched shirt fronts
and top hats, laughing out loud with painted faces.
Abolition, the obsession of your family, [End Page 212]
has come home to Harlem.
Every shape and shade build to cacophony
in the newness of freedom. Many are reborn
into the singing, glorious hints of redress
and burnished futures. But you arrive
after the sound has died down. Your legacy:
"crying want" in muted tones--
saffron and lilac evocations of crimson secrets.
The soft rustle of days passing like crisp, fiery leaves
tumbling around our feet evoke that final soil
dropping darkly onto sturdy pine.
Still, you do not write of your heart pounding,
except in solitude.
The soft scratch on paper is the earth cracking
open, pages filled--a lock turning
light falls on "dark, dark bodies."
You, under those days: primrose and dusk
demure, glistening with hunger.
The dewy orchid taste of your full lips, a thick
scent in the air.
A look of surprise.
Mouths finally touch for all to see.
Jewelle Gomez is a poet, fiction writer and literary critic. Her first novel, The Gilda Stories, won two Lambda Literary Awards for fiction and science fiction. Gomez' latest work is a collection of short fiction, Don't Explain. She was on the founding board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), on the original staff of one of the oldest weekly Black television shows in the U.S. ("Say Brother" in Boston) and the former Executive Director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archive at San Francisco State University.
* Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958) is a lesser known poet whose work appeared in journals published during the Harlem Renaissance and who was the niece of the Abolitionist Grimke sisters. Her many cryptic references to her love for women survive in her unpublished letters and poems which were first written about by scholar Akasha Hull.