Friday, 03 February 2023

American Life in Poetry: I Am Bound for de Kingdom

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Florence Price and Marian Anderson were two great American artists whose collaborations — Price as pianist, arranger and composer, and Anderson as exemplary singer — represented the triumph of art over adversity.

Marlanda Dekine’s moving poem “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” is named after a negro spiritual for which these two black women are famous.

Dekine reminds us of the difficult world of racism experienced by their “ascendants” and shows how, with their art, they would take the risk and “leave the driveway.”

I Am Bound for de Kingdom
By Marlanda Dekine
—after Florence Price and Marian Anderson

My granddaddy Silas was born on the Nightingale plantation
in Plantersville, South Carolina, on riverbanks that loved
three generations of my kin, captured
in a green-tinted photograph, hanging in my daddy’s den.

Tonight, my eyes will take each old-world bird from the cropped space,
send them home with their songs and favorite foods.

Look out for me I’m a-coming too

with rice, okra, hard-boiled eggs, and Lord Calvert.

My daddy says if I get out of my car on Nightingale land,
the folks who own it might shoot. My daddy says,
“Never leave the driveway.”

Glory into my soul

I watch all of my ascendants. Their faces reflecting me
in that photograph. Their eyes are dead
black-eyed Susans.

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 copyright ©2021 by Marlanda Dekine, “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” from Oxford American, Issue 115, Winter 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 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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