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I have had the privilege of spending a small amount of time with today’s poet – most notably when I drove him from Villanova University to his hotel in Philadelphia, during which he gently poked fun at my small knowledge of the city – and he also happens to like the way my girlfriend dresses. That makes her very, very happy.

from Urban Renewal: xvii
Major Jackson

What of my fourth grade teacher at Reynolds Elementary,
who weary after failed attempts to set to memory
names strange and meaningless as grains of dirt around
the mouthless, mountain caves at Bahrain Karai:
Tarik, Shanequa, Amari, Aisha, nicknamed the entire class
after French painters whether boy or girl. Behold
the beginning of sentient formless life. And so,
my best friend Darnell became Marcel, and Tee-tee
was Braque, and Stacy James was Fragonard,
and I, Eduard Charlemont. The time has come to look
at these signs from other points of view. Days passed
in inactivity before I corrected her, for Eduard was
Austrian and painted the black chief in a palace in 1878
to the question whether intelligence exists. All of Europe
swooned to Venus of Willendorf. Outside her tongue,
yet of it, in textbooks Herodotus tells us of the legend
of Sewosret, Egyptian, colonizer of Greece,
founder of Athens. What’s in a name? Sagas rise and
fall in the orbs of jumpropes, Hannibal grasps a Roman
monkeybar on history’s rung, and the mighty heroes at recess
lay dead in woe on the imagined battlefields of HALO.

*Note: I believe this is an earlier version of this poem; if I can find the final version, I will include it or edit it in here.

Find out more about Major Jackson here.

And visit Dreaming In Iambic Pentameter for a thoughtful entry on the issue of race and publishing, partially inspired by Jackson’s essay “A Mystifying Silence: Big and Black,” published originally in American Poetry Review.

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