By Shaileen B.
Happy National Poetry Month! May all of us have an April full of wonderful poems, new and old. One wonderful new poem we're celebrating at the Library is "Responsibility" by Mya Green, the winner of our third annual Poetry Contest, judged and co-sponsored by Poet Lore. "Responsibility" will be published in Poet Lore's Fall/Winter issue, displayed in one of the huge show windows at the Central Library, and read by Mya on Saturday, April 12, at the CityLit Festival. Here is the poem:
our houses. Moved, sometimes before dirt
collected. My mother, with a Taurus
.357 magnum tucked under her arm at the grocery store—
or rather, the food pantry—galley kitchen in back
of Holy Spirit. The real reason I still follow
the catechism. Because I know what it’s like
to be truly hungry. Calm sea, startled
ocean. It is The Man who is to blame, too—
meaning Boss Man meaning Ku Klux meaning
stocks and bad investments. My mother just
as many hundreds of thousands of dimes in debt
as I am. We are double loops in an unending chain:
child beggar, gold-star report card. Six kids to bathe
in one outdoor tub. Granny making the Frank House
clean. Maw Maw dipping snuff. Ms. Johnson tells me
I can always pick cotton. Feel my lips, Mom would say,
my small hands pressed against her throat and mouth.
Feel the vibrations, she’d say. Deep South extracted
from my throat before it could root. We are not of the tribe,
we are a nation: fifteen burials at every stopping place,
sickness with each mile. Little Wolf says
the shaman woman walks in front of my mother
carrying a woven blanket, white. That I am late,
that I am never late.
When we asked Mya to share some thoughts about the poem, she wrote this:
Sometimes, writing a poem and crafting it just-so is a difficult labor. Other times though, the poem is ripe and I am ready to labor over it. I was very much ready for "Responsibility" when it arrived. I was in the company of poets, friends who’d prompted me to write into what I imagined as my mother's suffering. I could hear this poem traveling to me before I was prompted, and immediately its bones, its form, were clear. In revision there were many things that I wanted to say, things the poem itself rejected in its structure, which didn't warrant much change from the original penning. I’m not saying it came in one fell swoop, it had a quick arrival to the handwritten page, but I took a while to chisel away until I could expose its essence.
In many ways, "Responsibility" is an ode to my mother, a battle hymn of cross-generational suffering, and a testament to legacy and transcendence.
Keep an eye out for the Fall/Winter issue of Poet Lore in their e-store or at the Central Library. For other poetry events at the Pratt Library, check our calendar, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @librarypoems on Twitter.
See Mya read her winning poem below: