"Poetry for the People": Reading Garveyism through Poetry

Imagining Africa

by Jessica Covil Listen

The land is more than soil

Has to be. What are you otherwise?

—you, the uprooted

who have lived without that soil for generations

but still feel its hold on you

stronger than the slave ship.

You dream the land like a lover, believing

she is not the same without you.


Say it like a prayer.

You fall on your knees

and lift up your request

to multiple gods.

You are unsure which will listen.

Christ is the cross you would die on

but Christians enslaved you.

Iron in the palms of your hands

or encircling your wrists

in the blood that is both yours and His

—that forced inheritance.

Or maybe this iron was yours to begin with

That unbreakable stuff you’re made of

making you stand up straight

like Man does

up strong

like a Man does

You write this in so many stanzas

you say it in your sleep


White men have planted false doctrines

in your skin

cut row crops in your back

like you are the land


like you are the soil

dark and fertile

The means of production.

Modernity feels like

you are a walking plantation

Look at what Man does

naming you Woman


So you take back God

like a coup

Strong-arm Heaven

to prove you still have fight in you

and meekness is a virtue

but it’s tiresome waiting.

God’s Might is a wonder,

wonder if God might intercede on your behalf

might send down a host of heavenly angels

with some swords you could count on.

You wonder, too

if we are all God’s children,

why it’s just you

who’s treated like an unruly thing

in need of discipline

the white man playing Father

pretending at salvation.

They bury you in the earth

just to call you



So you reclaim “Father” too

and call it Africa

wanting to bear its name

wanting to have some other inheritance

than the one you’ve been branded with


Wanting to have what’s yours

to take back the soil,

you stolen from it

it stolen from you


And yet

the very name makes you throw your head back

jaw drop when you call on





you say it like a sigh

overcome with desire

but you don’t like feeling weak.

You decide

she must be the one

in need of saving


she is waiting

stretch your roots down deep


It is hard to

pin down

what it is about her

that slips through your fingers

Who could imagine

soil this free.

Claimed by so many men

and never paid for,

must be easy.


But how to explain

the way you wake up

with her scent tickling your nose

feeling the way she curves

to meet this body of yours

wherever it falls

How you just want

to settle it

once and for all

to make her worthy of the pleasure

but finally, to please her.


From this side of the ocean

it is always a paradox.

The way the tide pulls you violently in

and gives you back

the waves embracing the shore

if only to recede again.

This desperate act of love


makes you cry out:


This is light


This is love


This is loss




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