Poet of the Week: M. Nzadi Keita

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“[Ottilie Assing’s] letters to Douglass, which she wrote as a lover of more than twenty years, celebrated a familiar rich sensuality.”
– Maria Diedrich

Those Tuesdays when I climbed the attic loft
the window was a comfort, high and far,
that called me from my trials like thrushes called
to song. I waited out the visits
when Miss Ottilie came—a blue
eyed weed my husband found; she was no guest.
The downtown eyes called her the public wife,
who claimed his arm and took his books into
her foreign mouth, the bidder when
Fred auctioned off my place.
She laughed and laughed,
of course, at me. How could a mammy be
a match for such a princely man, I heard
her hiss. She wrote his speeches, left her name
in drawers. The halls bowed out as if
the house had witnessed too much pain–
a swollen, unhealed shape. I went up high
and listened to her, playing at my life.
I cut some cloth to fix her but I knew
that conjure would bring ruin. And now, latched
to the bed, I wish I’d kept those scraps of silk to learn
a softer sigh, to teach my hands new joys,
–hands that our abolition-loving liar once called paws.


M. Nzadi Keita’s Poets Tour Profile