Worth

By Marilyn Nelson b. 1946 Marilyn Nelson

For Ruben Ahoueya

Today in America people were bought and sold:
five hundred for a "likely Negro wench."
If someone at auction is worth her weight in gold,
how much would she be worth by pound? By ounce?
If I owned an unimaginable quantity of wealth,
could I buy an iota of myself?
How would I know which part belonged to me?
If I owned part, could I set my part free?
It must be worth something—maybe a lot—
that my great-grandfather, they say, killed a lion.
They say he was black, with muscles as hard as iron,
that he wore a necklace of the claws of the lion he'd fought.
How much do I hear, for his majesty in my blood?
I auction myself. And I make the highest bid.

Marilyn Nelson, "Worth" from Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011. Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Nelson.  Reprinted by permission of Marilyn Nelson.

Source: Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012)

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Poet Marilyn Nelson b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity

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 Marilyn  Nelson

Biography

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a military family, Marilyn Nelson is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and an accomplished poet, children’s verse author, and translator. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Yaddo residencies, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the 2012 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. Nelson is a professor emeritus at the . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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