American life in poetry | Torn right

There is a series of richly resonant touchstone terms in Jericho Brown’s vast poetic mythology. The word crossing refers, in part, to the great crossing of the Atlantic in the “Middle Passage”, to the many rivers crossed by those fleeing slavery, and finally to the great crossing of this deadly territory in the other unknown territory that we must all do. And in this poem, “La Traversée”, he reminds us that above all, confidence, faith (“more than a conqueror”), courage and reckless optimism (“it’s me who jumps”) are good companions on this journey.

Water is one thing, and one thing for miles.

Water is a thing, make this bridge

Built above another water. walk it

Early, come back when the day gets dark, everyone

Getting up just to find a way to rest again.

We work, start on one side of the day

Like the only sun on a planet, our straight eyes

Until the flame falls. The flame flows. thank God

I am different. I calculated and counted. I don’t cross

On something big. It reaches

Long as the sea. I’m more than a conqueror, taller

What bravery. I don’t walk. I am the one who jumps.

Poem reproduced with permission. Weekly column made possible by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of English. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.

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