Think of Me, Laughing
Series editor’s note: In Major Jackson’s new poem, “Think of Me, Laughing,” we meet a speaker who is well-acquainted with the habits of sorrow of inhabiting a black body. This is all utterly, devastatingly familiar, the collective rituals of shock, anger, grief, and mourning encapsulated in days of sobbing, protesting, pleading. The speaker asks, what are these / brown hands for if not to bury my eyes in the / ancient rivers of wrongs? And these ancient rivers of wrongs keep coming and sweeping away black bodies, leaving us at our rituals again, and again. But the poem is hopeful, too, because here is where we find the dignity of eggplants, a love of celestial bodies, a love of life itself—where living, and loving the bouts of life, becomes a radical act of self-preservation. And so the poem seems to say, yes, mourn and protest as these rivers must stop in their wronging, but also, engage in the radical act of joy, in the lives we continue to lead despite the ancient tides coming our way. – Mahtem Shiferraw
Think of Me, Laughing
by Major Jackson
You’re right to imagine me sobbing on the corner
of 6th Avenue & West 4th or raising
a hashtagged cardboard above my head
near the Liberty Bell. You’re right to
picture me lying down below the gold-domed
capitol demanding Don’t shoot!
It is my annual day of sobbing. What are these
brown hands for if not to bury my eyes in the
ancient rivers of wrongs? And isn’t this my consigned
single note in our final piece of music, mindless as a blink?
So go ahead: you and I are once again rehearsing decency.
It is the dream of loving fruited plains that do not love you back.
It is our feet planted in concrete that has me weep.
But first give thought to my luxuries, the sunset
I toasted over the Val di Chiana with an aperitivo
in Caffè Poliziano the summer of ’15, or give thought
to the promontories of conversation with my father
yesterday in which, among other delights, we discussed
the dignity of eggplants whose purplish tint
reminded him of a great aunt. Consider my love
of celestial bodies. You’re better off thinking
of me singing this morning a little Marvin Gaye,
not What’s Going On, but I Want You, sultry
and soulful: a one-way love is just a fantasy,
O Sugar! Forgive me for being bound up in the
ecstatic right now. I do not regret my little bout with life.
Editorial note: Black Voices is a special series guest-edited by Mahtem Shiferraw and sponsored by the WLT Puterbaugh Endowment, which makes possible the biennial Puterbaugh Lit Fest. The series will run on a weekly basis through August 2020. Read a career-spanning web-exclusive interview with Major Jackson and two poems from WLT’s Summer 2019 issue.