Friday, 02 December 2022

American Life in Poetry: How Anarcha Sees His Work

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

When historical figures become the subjects of poetry, there is a rich opportunity for transporting us into the emotional world of such people through the beauty of the imagination.

The facts of Anarcha Westcott’s difficult story can be found online, but Dominique Christina’s persona poem, “How Anarcha Sees His Work,” enriches our understanding of the brutish work of the 19th century South Carolina physician, J. Marion Sims, and in so doing, the poet imbues Anarcha’s life with a quality of human dignity in powerful ways.

How Anarcha Sees His Work
By Dominique Christina
i seen a chicken get his head
cut off and bein a chicken
he dumb and don’t know he
dead so he floppin and still running the yard
still! no head at all blood like bread crumbs
runnin runnin and folk laugh and
wait on the chicken to know he gone and it
take a while

i mean it aint always quick or easy
for a dead thing to know it’s a dead thing
so its squawkin and flappin
like it still got life and ain’t no life there
at all and that is what it’s like

doctor/massa tickled
at the blood and the squawkin
waitin on me to know i’m a dead thing
and me, dumb wit stayin.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem from, Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems, copyright © 2018 Dominique Christina. Reprinted with special permission from Beacon Press. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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