5 Poems by Lauren Fields

 

An Unpaid Salary

If one had thought to calculate the hours Multiplied 
by the adequate wage for each 
Day that the sun seared the skin until it cried 
And fingers laced through gossypium stems 
 
And multiplied that by the number of mothers who wept 
At the loss of their children and the number of fathers 
At the loss of their dignity and the number of backs 
Made canvasses on which bloody trees were painted, 
The wealth of my people would cease to be questioned 


Family Tree

I will wade through continents to find the root  
I will send my mind searching through tectonic plates to reach the 
place where I can claim birthright  
The bones of my ancestry must rest somewhere in a deep riverbed,  perhaps in the                             western tip of the Senegal or the southern end of the Niger 
 
I will cast hooks in thick history and draw out the scraps that are mine, 
pieces that once drifted in abundance like black dandelion tufts have 
since been lost, sucked back into the holes of a retold history I will 
collect the remains and store them in the forefront of my memory 
 
I am the descendant of the descendant of a people who  walked proudly in a 
land that they knew was theirs, a people who would groan to see their greatest                       granddaughter trampled by a country that insists  that her skin is a sickness, 
that assumes that her status is subservience, that believes her heritage to be 
homeless 
 
But I know that thousands of miles from here there are trees 
that grow deep enough to drink water filtered by the soil that my family worked, 
that my bloodline is not a lost cause, but an open-ended question  and the 
possibilities number as many as the shackles they had on their ships   
 
I may not know who to thank for my strength but their names exist in my helixes,  
they serve as the structure of my solace, I find solace in the knowledge  that they 
were strong enough to get me here,  here I will take history in my hand like a 
sculptor’s chisel 
and build a memory of my ancestors 


Southern Trees

When we, as children, made steeples of our fingers I 
imagined that mine were trees and the bark of my skin 
leapt out to make branches with thousands of leaves 
that swung from their stems 
 

 
And then, I became acquainted with images of trees in which fingers 
sat slack at the ends of quiet hands with calloused palms  and no 
number of leaves could hide the sleeping faces 
that dreamt, would dream forever in the shade 
 

 
The South was a house of terror built on load-bearing beams  
and the strong, perpendicular branch made me uneasy as if 
nooses would reach out and wrap me like strands of pearls 
There is an uncanny valley where the knots in poplar trunks seemed to wail noiselessly 
 

 
How could the trunks have remained unmoved? They 
should have shook in oscillating fits of sorrow drawing each 
root from the earth to cry out into the open air Why have we, 
too, become crosses?
 
 

 
But I have made peace with the southern trees 
spent afternoons beneath fleshless branches  and 
forgiven the limbs 
If each body were a single tear, then they, too, wept 


Stranger

There is a ghost of you in my lower back and I begin to paint your 
face in memories I’m almost certain are true. Was it you who used 
to touch my face, one finger at a time 
 
running down my chin? You ignite the part of my brain that has long forgotten how to say 
“Hold on,” sending familiarities like bullets into my amygdala,  making 
holes like the negative space of myself that I think you once filled.  
 
We were hummingbirds, beating our wings against the breath of the world, 
but it blew us apart as it blows the muscle memory of “together”  from my 
bones. Your image is replaced by a gaunt figure of affection, 
 
miming our moments in lurching gestures. 
Your eyes have become funhouse mirrors and I no longer see myself in them, but 
the warped strands of something that held us.  
 
Somewhere there is a bed that remembers how we fit together  as 
we slept, but those recollections have become plastic wrappers  
without the candy. They cluttered the crevices of my mind and so I  
threw them away one by one, methodically forgetting you.  


Born of Rivers

I was born of beautiful rivers,  
And all that was left to me was the mud 
A place was set for me 
But I was not allowed to sit at the table  
I wiped my feet but I knew that they would never be clean enough 
 
I spent hot, tired days sinking, 
One foot before the other, into the thickest mud 
I cried out for two hundred years, sang verses of hope, 
Wept for the loss of my dignity,  
moaned for the loss of my history and waited 
 
I waited, and He took me in His hands and shook me free 
He took chain in His hands and broke me free He 
carried me over the mud 
mud that was almost indistinguishable from my skin, 
But I remembered the difference 
 
I will build my house beside the riverbank where I was born 
I will drink from it, and wash my heavy feet. I will raise my children 
By the river and give them each a place at my table, 
But I will not forget the mud 
Or cease to praise the hands that carried me home 

 

 

Lauren E. Fields is a recent graduate of Harvard University, where she studied psychology. While she primarily focuses on written work, a few years ago she began writing and performing spoken word pieces for her undergraduate choir the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College.