The Black Maria

Aracelis Girmay

black the raven, black the dapples on the moon & horses, black sleep of
     night & the night’s idea,
black the piano, white its teeth but black its gums & mind with which
     we serenade the black maria.

          & the night, wearing its special silver, serenades us, too,
          with metaphors for how the body makes: semen stars, egg moon.

1600s: European ships heave fatly with the weight of black grief, black
     flesh, black people, across the sea; the
astronomers think the moon’s dark marks are also seas & call them “the
      black maria.”

          Meanwhile, the Italian Riccioli, naming the seas
               according to his language & sensibilities.
          Riccioli naming the dark fur of the moon:

Mare Cognitum, Mare Crisium, Mare Fecunditatis; Sea that Has
     Become Known, Sea of Crises, Sea of Fertility.
If it is up to Riccioli, then these are the names of three of the black maria.

          I call the sea “mar.” I call the sea “bahri.”
          I call the moon “luna.” But “far” is my word for both you & the moon. 

I heard a story once of a woman in the Sahara who, for years, carried a
     single page of Anna Karenina
that she read over & over, the long combers of print repeating like the
     waves of the black maria.

         Language is something like this. A hard studying of cells under a
         cells on their way to becoming other things: a person, a book,
             a moon.

Above the bowl, I crack the egg of this idea. Yolk from clear. Which is It?
     Which is Not It?
Does “moon” name the whole thing, or just the side we know, the side
     made dark with the black maria?

         How language is an asha tree, a fool that grows everywhere, a
             snake shedding its skin.
         A bowl of teeth. A kitchen plate of shadow & ruins, like the moon.

Moon says, “Please, god, crowd my loneliness with stars.” But the star’s
     life is short compared to Moon’s.
There is always a funeral. Moon is always wearing the veil of the black

           However pretty the sound, it was a misidentification,
           to name the basalt basins & craters the black maria of the moon.           

If this is a poem about misseeing—Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin,
     Rekia Boyd,
then these are also three of the names of the black maria.

           Naming, however kind, is always an act of estrangement. (To put
              into language that which can’t be
           put.) & someone who does not love you cannot name you right, &
              even “moon” can’t carry the moon.

If this is a poem about estrangement & waters made dark with millions
     of names & bodies—the Atlantic
Ocean, the Mediterranean & Caribbean Seas, the Mississippi, then these
     are also the names of the black maria.

           For days, the beautiful child Emmett swells into Tallahatchie. Even
              now, the moon paints its face
           with Emmett’s in petition. Open casket of the night, somebody’s
              child, our much more than the moon.

Stanford University