National Poetry Month: Dazié Grego, ‘Middle Passage’

Dazie Grego. (Courtesy Dazié Grego)

Editor’s Note: Welcome to National Poetry Month. Twice each week in April, KQED Arts & Culture will present a poem by a Bay Area poet. This series is curated by rightnowish host Pendarvis Harshaw, who also speaks with each poet about their work.

‘Middle Passage,’ by Dazié Grego

Born of cotton wombs

softly whipped

to coffin

Nappy hair to prune

in hopes to stop the laughin’

Blistered foot is doomed

to walk, another day

uneducated tongue

careful what you say

Broke shoulders spend your life

Hesitant but look

See not what holds today

but pray for what’s been taken

We connect to our ancestors

through the dialect we speak.

We protect our broken English

Our so called “poor” grammar

Because more important than any language

is the oral history we must keep

It is swimming between our tongues

and the very roof of our mouths.

It is an accent from Africa, United States

North or South

We are the children who have no written language

We hieroglyph pilgrims of the ocean

We Voo Doo Prince

Eyes weeping willows

Green moss and forgotten days of mounting lions

who still know our names.

They pace behind bars

in zoos

Not unlike many young Black brothers

The growls disturb the eleven sweet dreams

We hear them under covers

Can’t reach for the hand of God

but passed the hand of mothers

Hoard the love that’s in your heart

then look for some from others

He thrashes his hips against his lover

Refuses to turn over

and become receptive

Believes that death is born of absorbing

His lovers own dying seed

Nothing grows.

wearing skin

like withered leaves

Press your ear to my chest

Hear the mischievous wind

leftseeping,

heart keeping

kisses left by breath

that can not be perceived

Don’t forget

the beloved can always leave

Water thrusts spilling blood of pirates

with swords unsheathed

Froth on the shore

Un-drying saliva of Africans bones and names

that will never be retrieved

I look to her call out cousin

scream “uncle”

Cry do you remember me?

Was it the vessel, the ocean, or pale skins

that stole you from me?

No tears travel from the green in my Atlantic

I middle passaged tenderly.

Poet Dazié Grego wears a black sweater while posing and looking directly into the camera.
Oakland poet Dazié Grego. (Courtesy Dazié Grego)

Pendarvis Harshaw: What inspired this piece?

Dazié Grego: This poem was born in an attempt to identify the moment in our history that an African womb became “a cotton womb.” One giving birth to an African child. The other producing a Black slave. “Born of cotton wombs” was a thought that I felt compelled to complete. I investigate the origin of Blackness throughout many of my poems. In other words, I am inspired by exploring how our survival in this country has caused Africans to transform into Black Americans. I see the Middle Passage as the first major catalyst in producing that change.

When you write or perform, do you feel a connection to your ancestors? If so, can you describe that feeling?

Poetry is the language my ancestors speak. Often, I have said that I don’t possess the gift of writing. It is a gift that possesses me. Some of my best work was written as if I was being dictated to by an outside force. That force is the collective voice of my ancestors. It tells me who I am, and whose I am.

What is the role of poetry in society?

Poems are playgrounds for our words and a refuge to our emotions. They are the essence of empathy, mirrors we use to reveal the true nature of our humanity. Poetry is where society looks in order to experience us as our highest selves. It is the origin of self-revelation. When all other forms of communication have failed, we write and read poems.

Dazié Grego performs on May 14 and 15 at 3pm at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library as part of Skywatchers, a Tenderloin performance art ensemble of which he is an associate artistic director. Details here.

Grego’s 2020 poetry collection ‘Black Faggotry’ (Nomadic Press) is available here, and his spoken word album ‘Make Me Black’ is available here.

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