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Poem - I have been raised and it had nothing to do with me.

By Dylan Gilbert

I would be ash if not for the way
The sky cracks itself open
And leaks for us

I would fall for eternity if not for the way
The earth keeps pulling me back to her
Like desperate mother

I would be silent if not for the way my father
Peels open conversations in a long, gapped voice
he walks into a room and the room is his
Says a 70 year old saying and now the saying is his Touches the top of my head and I
am his

My dad is
chest to the sun brave
“never look back when you pass someone“

And how terrifying for me
How awful for my family
To love a black man who is scared of nothing
Who bleeds
And marvels at the way
His body can crack open
And leak like the sky

How tragic for my mother
That my brother and I follow him
Like he is the light
Because he is
Mimicking every proud step
And serrated voice
And impossible knowing
Of how even in death we can define
Any space

Any street is a black street if my mama D decided
to sit on the stoops of it
Any home is a black home if my dad chooses
To find rest in it
Any love is a black love if we are gracious enough
to give it
we laugh and the joy racing from our lungs in
hot air and crowded
breath be black
bestow a touch on a keyboard and the music ring black Stir a pot into something
woodenspoon ancient
And the food taste black

What is this but a miracle?
What is this but the most divine

I will touch every tree
graze every scrap of light
cup each handful of morning fog
Until the whole earth glow
Like the sun is beating
under its own skin
And maybe this how it was always
Supposed to be

Whiteness done nothing but bleach
the soil
clog the air
Crush the earth in factories
and hissing water
that swallows you back
We know,
They did it to us too
Flooded our houses
Rusted our pipes
bleached our food
We know how it feels to burn
and have someone make a picnic out of us

The earth my people
Both A bonfire

Both surviving things that we were not meant to

And that makes kin
That makes ancestry
That makes this land somebody’s
Cousin, somebody’s auntie, somebody’s mama

And how do you repay a parent
that only knows survival
And nothing else
Not even your name

I cannot reimburse my father
for being himself
for my happening to look at him
and reach back toward my own clay skin
and press
and press
And begin shaping myself

I cannot repay the Earth
For regulating her body
Watering her own roots
moving toward the sun and warming
all her leaves
and continents

She didn't do this for me

I just happened
to be here
her survival just happened to look
a lot like love
A lot like motherhood
A lot like braiding my hair
and buying me the new shoes

I cannot give back what was not given
I cannot repay what was simply
ritual of knowing
how to keep oneself alive

But I can keep touching trees
can keep watering the plants on my windowsill
Keep braiding my voice into something
early and brave
And black

I can keep surviving and waiting
For someone to look at me
And reach back
And begin
shaping themselves


Dylan Gilbert is an LSA senior double majoring in Film and English with a sub-concentration in creative writing. She is the President of the University of Michigan Slam poetry Team, a recipient of multiple Hopwood awards, and was awarded ‘Best Poet’ at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.