Self-Portrait as Overseer by Ashanti Anderson

Imagine a ten-year-old with a whip.

In films, it’s always a middle-aged man

with a haggard mouth. I also lost teeth, myself

a little snaggletoothed falsetto-swearer.

Movies never show how slaves pissed and shit

themselves, but I’ve seen surrender embrace

a brother’s tense thighs, sheltered nostrils

from the whispered stench

of a final prayer. The sobbing is not despairing

as his mouth, silent and open for aeons

before throat unbuttons its sound.

Leather makes sculpture of skin and cotton

still lashes my hand, however soft.

I’ll give you something to cry for: in photos,

the overseer’s clothes never quite fit, hang

overweighted bones like a father’s coat.



Ashanti Anderson (she/her) is a Black Queer poet, screenwriter, and playwright. Her poetry has appeared in POETRY magazineWorld Literature TodayFoothill Journal, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the 2018 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Poetry Contest. You can learn more about Ashanti’s previous & latest shenanigans at