The Great Dismal Swamp by Aaron Coleman

We were born in here. With this kindling I hold, dry crumble
from the wind of my mouth, I make a cradle
of these made-criminal hands: black, escaped, free, native, rare

white, sweat-riddled ghosts, sacrifice
secreted along abandoned canals. Find me, find us,
hidden, cleaved to low high ground surrounded
in sulfur gas, elemental. Noxious freedom, a broken stone

hammer, catgut: gifts, from ancestors by your laws not our
ancestors but we need all they chose and did not
choose to leave. Born in here. Slow muscle, belief

in the shrewd heron, mute peat, nameless rodent,
delirious cicada, the poisonous, the gangrene-swollen

paw, and these living hands, and the guilty mercy
of any god mired between here, lower
ground, and impossible ocean. Echoing death

is a kind of survival. Worn down, we are thankful;
those who hunt us end always raptured
in mosquito gospel. Commit to memory the quieted
hate, what punctures the enveloped body: one grown human

given over before the morning, but after we witnessed blood
turn slicker than forgetfulness, branch shards buoyant inside
the wooden dark. Caught in trees, living unbearable angles. Go

back where you came from white man, contract, bloodhound,
we’ll camp in the grease-mud, the humid underside of silence.

Note: “The Great Dismal Swamp” takes its title from a large marshland area in the Coastal Plain Region, encompassing southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The area was said to have harbored many peoples who fled enslavement and persecution in the 17th and 18th century.

Aaron Coleman’s first full-length collection, Threat Come Close, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in March 2018. Winner of the 2015 Button Poetry Prize for the chapbook, St. Trigger, as well as the Tupelo Quarterly TQ5 Poetry Contest and the Cincinnati Review Robert and Adele Schiff Award, Aaron is also a Fulbright Scholar and Cave Canem Fellow. Aaron’s poems have appeared in journals including Boston Review, FENCE and New York Times Magazine. Aaron is currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Washington University St. Louis.