Latino Poetry homepage link

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 microscope,
         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 maria.

           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.