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


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.

Chet’la Sebree

Chet’la Sebree is the author of the poetry collection Mistress (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2019). She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Stadler Center for Poetry. Her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Pleiades, and Guernica.