To Miss Ethel Trew Dunlap, and other Black Women Poets by Jessica Covil

Yes! There is no way to begin
except in exclamations,
the way you reach out through the print
and make yourself heard.
Yes! You have made yourself known
amidst every lie flung against you.
The ink dries and there you are:
black on a white background
And you can be as brazen
as any man,
but with a twist–
a militant with hips,
the curve of your lips
giving birth with new words
like God Himself
turning the lights on.
Like when Carita Collins
had the U.S. Attorney General
running scared
the year the black soldiers came home
to Jim Crow and more lynchings,
and she penned it:
“This must not be!”
And “New Negroes” the world over
Or Ethel Trew Dunlap,
whose poems were an archive
of freedom fighters,
“Four Million Strong” and growing.
She dreamed of dying one night
but kept going.
Black women poets–
you spoke of winning a higher place,
you made yourselves a space
in the pages of a weekly
and all the borders they crossed.
Liberty was a song repeated,
chanted and enchanting.

You sang Garvey’s praises
and he sang yours too,
named you queen of all women.
Black woman,
he said,
your eyes shine with virtue.

And this was the price paid
to restore your “good name”:
to be a sweet maid,
a virgin.

Perhaps that explains why
Africa was rarely called “Mother”
when the womb was a fraught space,
a wound left open
like a field
where the seeds grown
were planted by force;
and the men who defiled you
labeled you

you would be roses:
something delicate
something cherished
both desired and protected–
a thorn in the hand
of any who would pluck you.

But I can see
how you grew your own garden,
a community of poets
by calling out each others’ names
like the women before you,
dedicating a line or two
to the women you cherished.
Not because any man told you to.

I know that
poetry has a spirit
–is spirit–
a growing from the Earth
with some heaven in mind.
When you were buried in the dirt,
how did it feel to come so close to the sky?