At the Beach

By Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962 Elizabeth Alexander
Looking at the photograph is somehow not
unbearable: My friends, two dead, one low
on T-cells, his white T-shirt an X-ray
screen for the virus, which I imagine
as a single, swimming paisley, a sardine
with serrated fins and a neon spine.

I’m on a train, thinking about my friends
and watching two women talk in sign language.
I feel the energy and heft their talk
generates, the weight of their words in the air
the same heft as your presence in this picture,
boys, the volume of late summer air at the beach.

Did you tea-dance that day? Write poems
in the sunlight? Vamp with strangers? There is
sun under your skin like the gold Sula
found beneath Ajax’s black. I calibrate
the weight of your beautiful bones, the weight
of your elbow, Melvin,

                                  on Darrell’s brown shoulder.

“At the Beach” by Elizabeth Alexander. From Body of Life, published by Tia Chucha Press. Copyright 1996 Elizabeth Alexander. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Poetry (February 1994).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 1994 issue of Poetry magazine

February 1994
 Elizabeth  Alexander

Biography

Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a highly respected teacher and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Health & Illness, Relationships, Living, Sorrow & Grieving

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