Poetry: Essay Retreat by Afua Ansong
A strange connection exists between poetry and teaching, and Afua Ansong explores it beautifully with subtle couplets and understated scene work. Notice how her students come alive in the focus of her language, how the poem respects Joseph and Erika and Rebecca. “Essay Retreat” does the hard work of revealing those who get lost in the boundaries.
Write about an interesting article of clothing in your closet.
Francisco sticks pen to loose leaf. When I ask him to focus,
he says, I can’t answer that question. I don’t have a closet.
It is the loudest spring day in Southampton, the glass reaches
for the sun’s glare and rubs it on my forehead.
You have a wall, I argue. It has pictures of the family
he left in Columbia. In his second language, I tell him:
write about what hurts, the most, about leaving
a place you cannot return to. Joseph draws landscapes,
describes it as rhetorical realities. He is not a twin:
Reina who lives under the same roof
is in this class too. She interprets him. Erika, all the way
to the border, all the way to deportation, left soccer balls
with her best friends: they are pillows. They will dream
of her when they retire their goals. Erika who lost
a boy who said he would wait. Erika who has America
but nothing else. Rebecca is Portuguese.
See how this quest to travel keeps us in cages,
see how when I grate my teeth
my gum smells of the Atlantic Ocean, the wet screams
of my ancestors? I don’t vomit my fears,
I don’t say you too will sit in a bathroom
stall and cry your throat out in mother tongue,
I don’t describe the knot that will tie in their stomachs,
force them to search for familiar flavors, I don’t tell them:
ever since I left, there’s been nothing present but self.
Afua Ansong is a Ghanaian American artist who writes poetry and teaches contemporary and traditional West African dance. Afua is currently working on several projects about the migration of humans and birds. Her work can be seen or is forthcoming in Vinyl, The Seventh Wave, Maine Review, PUBLIC POOL & other Magazines.