Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
& might very well remain that way,
despite the best attempts
of our present overlord to resurrect
him without a single living
black mother’s permission.
If he should come, & be recognized
as anything other than the muted whisper
of a body interred, I wish his return
as some strange & ungovernable terror,
a ghost story turned live & direct ectoplasm
without warning: Frederick in the White
House kitchens, Frederick in the faucets,
Frederick posted up at every corner
of the Oval office, shredding documents
invisibly, a blade in each of his eighteen
laser hands. Go off, his more radical undead
colleagues will exclaim. You better tell that man
to keep your name out his mouth. But Frederick
Douglass doesn’t say a thing. Not yet.
He’s waiting for you & me, my grandmother
says. Frederick Douglass is irrevocably dead,
& refuses to ride until we are ready. Until
our prayers are knives or sheets of flame:
Hear us, O Beloved, Fugitive Saint: Defer
the rain. Grant us the strength of a rage
we can barely fathom. Make us
brave as the flock in the fist
of a storm. Unmoor every melody
they built from our screams. Steady
our dreams. Keep us warm.
Dr. Joshua Bennett is the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016) and Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man, which is forthcoming from Harvard University Press. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. Winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series, Dr. Bennett has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Ford Foundation. His writing has been published in American Poetry Review, The New York Times, Poetry and elsewhere. He is currently a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
The vast hinterlands of the Global South’s cities are generating new solidarities and ideas of what counts as a life worth living.
Protests in China are shining a light not only on the country’s draconian population management but restrictions on workers everywhere.
Support us with a donation this giving season.