by Kemi Alabi
Not all of us survived. Grief came home, back to our throats, our lungs. Grief been Black—blue Black. Tires-bald-between-work-and-home Black. Monday-through-Sunday-double-shifts Black. Asked about those visions—if spirits still slicked my mother’s sleep—and she said she’s too tired to dream. Too-tired-to-see-nothing-but Black. Grief came home, to our lead-thick water, our Big-Mac-breakfast-greasing-the-way-between-work-and-home-and-work-and-home Black. Begged her to take sick time, but not-a-day-off-in-ten-years Black. Said the place would fall apart without her, but not-a-raise-in-ten-years Black. Needs the health insurance, dad used nine diapers all before noon, don’t-make-pillboxes-big-enough Black, and the co-pays alone. Not all of us survive. Not all living is surviving. A virus can’t take what they already stole: our land, our labor, our language, our magic, our mind, our time, our time. But all my mother’s mail tries to tell her what she owes. How much will her burial cost, death-another-debt Black. Grief-a-bill-where-the-body-was Black. News all markets and borders and shouts and nothing we can live on, no-news-still-bad-news Black. Learned about the virus on the clock, when the packages we ship became essential. Learned about the virus when pastor got sick, though he was covered in The Blood, though we made third, fourth jobs of prayer. Learned about the virus when the cough came, when the clinic wouldn’t answer the phone, remembered what the ER cost last time, so we just stayed home. When even the stores in the white neighborhoods had nothing on the shelves. When the calls from the cousins up in county came, and even their pitch was a fever.
Kemi Alabi was born on a Sunday in July. A Chicago-based poet, their work lives (now or soon) in Poetry Magazine, Boston Review, Guernica, The Rumpus, Best New Poets 2019, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2 and other warm places. Kemi is the cultural strategy director of Forward Together and coeditor of The Echoing Ida Collection (The Feminist Press, 2021). They’re working, with much love, on their first full-length poetry collection. Find more at kemialabi.com.