The Morning Hour

By Dawn Lundy Martin
And these hands my mother’s
When washing was—when clean could not be.
To wrap the body in cotton.              What imprisons.
                             When carrying humped—
and these bald knuckles from her.
The lips tight. Damp.              This Desire.
Beyond that.              A tiny voice.
The foreign woman
who bends over—is spotted.
Her wind is taken.
                                                         [            ]
A closed back.           Turned in.           Centered.            A world shut out.
The infinite lines welt.          Her voice is open.          Transparent.
Dissolved.            A tunnel protector.           A subtle skin.          Olivia.
Hold these shoes to the sun. They are just shoes.
What the girl has not. How secret the burden. Carrying nothing.
And common.            Breathe.
This moment open.            She wrenches.             Falls into—
this small casing inflamed.             She scrubs.             And is common.
                                                           [            ]
What did Negro replace?
                      Claiming what could have been
                      Their strange feet making a way.
And what metaphor?
What could call the horrors?
Pressing hands we cannot decipher.
An arched woman hunches in.
Presence.           Birth.              Our bracelet.
Who navigated wooden ships?
                        This hardened ankle sucks black earth.
                        Her slight life.
Help us poison position.
And Olivia, the mouth of his children
from the mouth of my vagina.
And Olivia, what no memory can recall
lost eternally inside covered wagons.
                                                           [            ]
Walk eternities. Feet thick as throats.
What will become a life.
When do voices gain earth?
The finest grain solved between the thumb and forefinger.
Reads like the slightest movement of a hip.
And nothing is left but time.             And God.              And the dense night.
Against skins.
What is simple
is nothing.
Imagine history.
An entire race
looks into
the slit camera eye.
                                                         [            ]
Speak of going back,
of gathering the horses,
the prized memoirs
that have nothing to do with place.
and pack like a boy
who leaves his slivered home.
About land.
What is familiar
is the warm spice
of a girl oiled
in lavender.
Into oceans.
Lie and almost remember—
almost breathe soiled air and ire.
Count foreign.
Make sense
of the sounded boots
that exhaled fate.
                                                            [            ]
The footsteps are wet. Desire is wet.
Is going step by step—
the ash trail is wicked. The thicket wept.
Must be quieted—the vast space between the—there.
These tittied deities—Our Orishas—
how they seized what they did not know.
Every element is bare. Like ruptured mouths—
who could not say—who uttered—who died not pronouncing.
From Benin to this fractured exile.
                                            I am in this fist.
                                            I am a witness in exile.
Our old. Two settlers. Claiming Land. The collective hum.
A distant Lord Missy. And this huge hand reaches beneath the skin.
Want is______________. I am hot inside the bone.
Believe this exit.                                    Take. Take. Take 

Dawn Lundy Martin, “The Morning Hour” from Callaloo: 22.4. Copyright © 1999 by Charles H. Howell. Reprinted with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Source: Callaloo 22:4 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999)

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Poet Dawn Lundy Martin

Subjects Living, The Body, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

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 Dawn Lundy Martin


Poet and activist Dawn Lundy Martin earned a BA at the University of Connecticut, an MA at San Francisco State University, and a PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Her poetry collections include Discipline (2011), chosen by Fanny Howe for the Nightboat Books Prize, and A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering (2007), which was selected for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize by Carl Phillips and was a finalist for the . . .

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