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.