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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Jacqueline Johnson

Blues Woman Elegy

(for the late Monica Hand)



You came from women who sat out on their porches

gazing at constellations of Pegasus and Orion.

Women comfortable in the heavens, made

Earth-bound by children and wayward men.


To see a new thing happening. Who is that heifer?

One girl child painting, writing stories and poems,

scared everyone by pointing to a different future.

You were big-boned, wide hip, smart as you want to be.


Did the traditional job at the post office, nonprofits.

Wore big Ankara style pants and men’s hats too.

Blues woman’s song lighting up a room, like that

time we read poems at the Venus Hottentot conference.


Your voice an anarchy of rage, mountain of blues and hope.

To hear what you were really saying commanded courage.

Your home made; badass, Coptic stitched books bound with beads.

Such joy etched into every page your awl touched.


Your swerve growing from blue collar to academy,

to become a scholar in such a brief breath space.

Lived too long in Missouri, too far away from folk

both gave and took your heart from you.


Will miss you walking ahead, brilliant, ablaze in the fields of life.

Tree Steward in the Stuy

Try to get him to see the hill of sand

planted across base of the oak tree;

that petunias, marigolds, small patch

of purple Impatients were never meant

to live on top sand brought in

from Brighton Beach or Coney Island.


Where he comes from sand is all around.

A welcome cover for African Gerbers or aloe,

small, arid bushes and lemon trees.

Here in the heart of the Stuy men in kufis and

long robes irrigate the land with buckets

forming small rivulets of water.


Sand upon the tree flanches, which are

akin to young lungs and anchors will suffer.

Try wearing a plastic bag over your head.

It is the same for the tree.


Oak tree over eighty years old,

an elder really,

may die under unknowing and loving hands.


One winter one will see the tell-tale signs

brown leaves that never fell

still on the upper branches.


Jacqueline Johnson is a multi-disciplined artist creating in poetry, fiction writing and fiber arts. She is the author of A Woman’s Season, on Main Street Rag Press and A Gathering of Mother Tongues, published by White Pine Press, and is the winner of the Third Annual White Pine Press Poetry Award. Her work has appeared in “Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era,” Routledge 2020, The Slow Down, American Public Media, October 16, 2019, and “Pank: Health and Healing Folio,” 2019. She is a Cave Canem fellow and Black Earth Institute Fellow 2018-2022. Works in progress include “The Privilege of Memory, a collection of short stories, and “This America,” a poetry collection. She is a graduate of New York University and the City University of New York. A native of Philadelphia, PA, she resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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