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 Michael H. Levin: Poems and Prose  

MUSEUM OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY

(Basement exhibits: September 2016)

This is the lumbar region

of the world, a knotted spine

whose segments radiate pain.

The Middle Passage still casts

shadows here: night sweats, damp fears

still cramped by unseen chains.


How live as property? each

orifice inspected twice a day.

Peremptory gestures that mean

strip, lie mute; mean choked-back screams.

A prohibition unto death

on contact between eyes.


How live as inventory?

Lists of half-names tallied

in estates or shuffled out

of pigeonholes and slapped on

barrel-heads hint what’s denied.

A stubborn slow migration


north to alien ground, ticked out

in scrap-booked railroad stubs, hints

otherwise. Somehow by bright

church hats or bluesy gospel

tunes, through gnarled dead-ended

passages they made a way,


in time laid paths where there were

none; left Egypt’s black despair

behind. Yet hauled stone and hewed

wood still caw. O country, you

know well first sin. Our spiny

serpent wakes, then rises ring-


side from bunched rows of cotton

bolls again. No cure for snakes --

not goshawks, eagle-strikes or prayer –

can last: we’re bound, winged angel

to its demon, in a whole. Though

dignity acknowledged might


some day help repair this one

sciatica of soul.

Version first published in What Rough Beast, July 16, 2019

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