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'The Seven Corners': a poem for Kwanzaa

The seven principles of Kwanzaa, a pan-African holiday spearheaded by Maulana Karenga in 1966, meet the history and experience of Black Americans in this poetic work.


The heart weaves a symphony
in concert with the mind,
the fabric that clothes
the nation and her heroes
in multicolor adornment
dripping with gold
on the inside and out.

I can taste the family left,
baked in the bottom of this dish, Mama.
I can hardly consume a moment, nowadays,
without the seasoning of traumatic recollection
sprinkled a ‘top.

Is this sun the same
sun that ripped our
fathers’ brown backs

Is this heat the same
heat that taught our mothers’
to deep sweat holy melody
out of every pore?

In the resurrection,
God will boil the blood
from the soil,
song by song, mineral by
reconstituting the home
of a houseless people
from the bones of
the arthritic hymnography
undergirding the muscles of their labor.

We’ll rest on that day.


The darkness bound
our feet and hands with
the swift lick of a riptide
masked beneath the rapid breathing

Help me stand, I whispered
to myself; watching every wave
crashing over itself
as evidence that time passes
and change is possible.

No longer does a wooden furnace on the sea
smelt us into one another
with the call and response
moaning of hell fire.
No longer is death resting in every nostril,
seeping into the back of the mouth;
a taste on every tongue.


In the fever of those early moments,
our blood and sweat
ran together like rivers
between us, drowning and
cleansing us.

Skin was introduced to skin
as persons became families
became tribes became nations
in the genealogy of the black soul.

We were bricks upon bricks formed
into a fortress on the shores
beneath the wisp of Southern willows;
perpetually battered by the winds and rains
crawling from the depth
of the storms that live in man.

You, oh sisters, arm in arm, were
my heart in the world.
You, oh brothers, head tilted
back to the blue and black
of the sky, were
my feet in the fields.

Together, our lungs inhaled
a language long forgotten
in the desert of the southern West; the tongue
of the man of the soil, the Adam
and Eve, carved from the dusts
of time turned counterclockwise.


We have been a city assembled,
and carved out of the
breast of a living Africa,
sent to nurse upon new
milks and wines under the
cedars of Lebanon.

I sought to taste
and reached out with the
curve of my lip extended,
only to be slapped away by the
devil himself in the disguises of gentry,
draped in the coffins of wealth
and false crowns jeweled and bedazzled by
dead bodies swinging.
But from us went forth the
truth without structures,
riches that gave
rise to praise dancing
on the wood of slave cabins
and the fertility of forest floors.

Hand down the treasures, Auntie,
I know you got ‘em
in your pocketbook. I know you
got ‘em in those parts of you
tucked away in the back room.


Pass them to me
so that I can unravel and unfold them,
pull them out for display;
uncoiled for all, given freely,
and unveiled in the world with
full force.

Hope may lack the faculty of speech
without us. On my own,
on our own, there is a dry cough
and sigh
where the blood should be.

Oh, fathers and mothers
of the last true island,
you cut out the cloth
that give our habits form and dimension.

You moved us before us, and
for us. The cane of sugar
couldn’t support our weight
as we broke it down for foreign masters,
shipped it off and sold it.

All of us was for profit.
Our eternal destiny was
doled out as the dividends of
a cash crop.


It is the push and pull
of the saw that fells oaks
of great age.

It is experience drawn up
from the ocean that collects
into the clouds that give rain.

It is the love between bones
that begets the flesh
that gives tomorrow a body.


And in this body,
the soul rests.

The life left
to carry through the days
beyond the embrace of the
if we can reach it.

Holding hands with the
vitality left in the whispers
of the ancestors,
gripping the compass
of the north star by word of mouth,
allowing our eyes to turn
light meeting light.

Louis Damani Jones is a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis and co-host of the Living Communion podcast. He is also the recipient of the 2020 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award from the USCCB.

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