Listen:

In the never-silence of a bug-hum summer,
you call to me, try to find me

atop west portico steps,
in a hotel placard in Paris,

but you cannot save me. I’m bound
by history. I am burned letters

and bathroom and parking lot at Hampton Inn.
I am broken soup tureen and snapped shears

and rusted skeleton key. I am black wench,
wench Sally, African Venus, Sarah Hemings,

and I cannot be your coalmine canary,
cannot tell you which man will be true.

Chet’la, I cannot save you. You must
find your own truth as fires ripple through you,

as you decide the nature of your landscape—
which bulbs you’ll nurse to blossom—

as you seek peace in this voice
that’s no more you than it is me.

Image: detail of Auguste Edouart's "Slave Belonging to Mrs. Oyley." From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Chet’la Sebree

Chet’la Sebree, a Delaware native, is a graduate of American University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. She has received fellowships from Bucknell University's Stadler Center for Poetry, Hedgebrook, the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Richard H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. Her poems have most recently appeared in Crazyhorse, BOAAT, and Gulf Coast. She’s currently working on her first collection of poems.