Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. She is a professor at Yale University, and for the academic year 2007-2008 she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
...when I think of the soldiers packing gear,
Their guns silent, tanks still, standing at the ready,
Eyes moist with liberation and grief, hands wrung their last,
I think of them gleaming, striding away from the savagery,
The dying, the defeated, the triumphant... colorless stench.
When I see them marching out, freed of the difficult sand,
I imagine that black soldiers are most anxious for home,
Calling for the stretch of time to witness their history,
Onlooker to human hope instead of war’s gangling limbs
Stacked like firewood on streets smothered in suffering.
When I think of all of the soldiers coming home
Shipped in those god-awful frowning boxes,
I try to imagine their loved and beautiful faces,
But their smiles float away from who they were.
What a sad and ghastly testament of their use.
May your use, your words paint upon this,
Grant us reprieve from an unfavorable history.
Free our hearts and our minds of horrid combat
For war is the chain that has enslaved us all.
© 2008 mrp/tpm