Two Poems

Poetry / Artress Bethany White

:: An American Moor in Spain ::

Motherland is as tangible
as the blackness of skin
and the kink of a lock 
of burnished hair 
under an Iberian sun.

This to a German child
visiting Spain says it all: 
You’re African. His words stated
so emphatically after assuring him
I am American that I can
feel the annoyance 
blossom in my chest 
and tighten my jaw.

How to navigate this moment
when a child professes to know
more than me about who I am
as his mother stands behind 
clasping small shoulders to her womb,
daring me to contradict
her son’s Teutonic intellect.
Her smirk saying go ahead, 
deny your continent, your birthright.

My nativity was cultivated
in the breast milk
of a native-born mother,
resting in the sinews of her progeny,
as precise an articulation as 
lips to breast, hand over heart
an unshakable pledge of fealty. 

This is not treason;
I am an American, though black. 
I am stolen goods
but can trace my family back 
three hundred years on US soil, 
longer than Whitman’s leaves of grass, 
longer than this anger will last
as I walk away muttering 
I am an American.


:: Role Reversal ::

	for Sandra Bland

The cruiser makes a tight u-turn 
                          on a rural highway, because 
an Illinois plate reminds him 
                          of a visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier 
on an early spring day so windy
                          he felt the hawk peck the skin
of his features like a knife, but today 
                          just wants to relive the sojourn 
with someone who will know
                          what he means when he says,
well, cold. And say, after relief 
                          brightens Sandra’s untroubled 
brown face, she tells the cop 
                          about the job luring her from
 Chicago back to this southwestern
                           place, and he swells with pride
pleasure unwinding in his voice 
                          while stating with a bow 
Welcome back to Texas,
                           I sure hope you enjoy us now.


From the writer

:: Account ::

I find myself resolving traumatic childhood events in my poetry. This is a byproduct of clearly not having the intellectual tools as a kid to process a complex world. “An American Moor in Spain” reveals how a simple encounter around the issue of national identity as a teenager in Spain became a watershed moment in my first-hand experience with monolithic notions of blackness. It was a shock to be called out of my American identity by a stranger and to be questioned once I corrected the perpetrator. In the moment, I remember being angry because I was basically being called a liar. Later, I realized that my very right to exist in an American context was being questioned because of the color of my skin, a phenomenon I would come to know as de rigueur as an African American adult in the US. Similarly, the poem “Role Reversal” imagines a moment when a young black woman’s death could have been avoided if the motivation behind her being pulled over had been an act of benign randomness instead of calculated racial profiling.


Artress Bethany White, PhD is the author of Fast Fat Girls in Pink Hot Pants: Poems (Aldabra Press, 2012). She has received the Mary Hambidge Distinguished Fellowship from the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts for nonfiction and The Mona Van Duyn Scholarship in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. New nonfiction is forthcoming in Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Letters and Song (University of Tennessee Press, 2016). Recent poetry has appeared in Poet Lore and Menacing Hedge.