Absence

In the absence of women on board,
when the ship reached the point where no landmass
was visible in any direction
and the funk had begun to accrue-
human funk, spirit funk, soul funk-who
commenced the moaning? Who first hummed that deep
sound from empty bowels, roiling stomachs,
from back of the frantically thumping heart?
In the absence of women, of mothers,
who found the note that would soon be called “blue,”
the first blue note from one bowel, one throat,
joined by dark others in gnarled harmony.
before the head-rag, the cast-iron skillet,
new blue awaited on the other shore,
invisible, as yet unhummed. Who knew
what note to hit or how? In the middle
of the ocean, in the absence of women,
there is no deeper deep, no bluer blue.

 

 

 

From: AMERICAN SUBLIME (Graywolf Press, 2005)

Poems by Elizabeth Alexander

Absence

Fugue

The Venus Hottentot