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Authors: Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry (11 page)

BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
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“sixty-four lynchings”: “The Red Summer of 1919,” History, last modified August 6, 2020,

_ _ _ _ _ [GATED]

The line “Ha, we’re so pained, / We probably thought / That poem was about us” is influenced by the song “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon.

The lines “Anyone who has lived / Is an historian & an artifact” are influenced by Anne Carson’s poetry book
, specifically the line “One who asks about things . . . is an historian.”

Courtney Coughenour et al., “Estimated Car Cost as a Predictor of Driver Yielding Behaviors for Pedestrians,”
Journal of Transport & Health
16 (February 2020): 100831,

Natassia Mattoon et al., “Sidewalk Chicken: Social Status and Pedestrian Behavior,” California State University, Long Beach, last modified July 22, 2021,

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, “Passing Moments: Some Social Dynamics of Pedestrian Interaction,”
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography
24, no. 3 (October 1995): 323–340,


I’m grateful for Kira Kleaveland and the whole
CBS This Morning
team for first giving a home to the poems “Fury & Faith” and “The Miracle of Morning,” among others.


The title and refrain “The Truth in One Nation” is inspired by the quote “The truth is one nation, under drugs, under drones,” from Ocean Vuong’s book
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

“war has changed”: Yasmeen Abutaleb et al., “ ‘The War Has Changed’: Internal CDC Document Urges New Messaging, Warns Delta Infections Likely More Severe,”
Washington Post
, July 29, 2021,

The line “Silence least of all” is inspired by the book
Your Silence Will Not Protect You
by Audre Lorde.


The poem “Libations” takes on a shape inspired by that of Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Obligations 2.”


Timeline sources:

Ben Casselman and Patricia Cohen, “A Widening Toll on Jobs: ‘This Thing Is Going to Come for Us All,’ ”
New York Times
, April 2, 2021,

Clint Smith,
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
(New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2021).

Derrick Bryson Taylor, “A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic,”
New York Times
, March 17, 2021,

Drew Kann, “Extreme Drought and Deforestation Are Priming the Amazon Rainforest for a Terrible Fire Season,” CNN, June 22, 2021,

Eddie Burkhalter et al., “Incarcerated and Infected: How the Virus Tore Through the U.S. Prison System,”
New York Times
, April 10, 2021,

Josh Holder, “Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World,”
New York Times
, September 19, 2021,

Kathy Katella, “Our Pandemic Year—A COVID-19 Timeline,” Yale Medicine, last modified March 9, 2021,

“Listings of WHO’s Response to Covid-19,” World Health Organization, last modified January 29, 2021,

Thomas Fuller, John Eligon, and Jenny Gross, “Cruise Ship, Floating Symbol of America’s Fear of Coronavirus, Docks in Oakland,”
New York Times
, March 9, 2020,

“A Timeline of COVID-19 Vaccine Developments in 2021,” AJMC, last modified June 3, 2021,

The Visual and Data Journalism Team, “California and Oregon 2020 Wildfires in Maps, Graphics and Images,”
BBC News
, September 18, 2020,


The line “History has its eyes on us” is a reference to “History Has Its Eyes on You” from


Cameron Awkward-Rich. Excerpt from “Essay on the Appearance of Ghosts.” Copyright © 2016, Cameron Awkward-Rich.

Dustin Lance Black, quote from Academy Originals Creative Spark Series (2014). Used by permission.

Anne Carson, from
, copyright © 2010 by Anne Carson. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Don Mee Choi. Quote from
DMZ Colony
, copyright © 2020 by Don Mee Choi. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.

Lucille Clifton, excerpt from “far memory 7: gloria mundi” from
The Book of Light
. Copyright © 1993 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Copper Canyon Press,

Lin-Manuel Miranda. Excerpt from the composition “Take a Break,” from the Broadway musical
. Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Copyright © 2015 5000 Broadway Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

M. NourbeSe Philip, excerpt from “Notanda,” from the book
Copyright © 2008, published by Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut. Used by permission.

Tracy K. Smith, excerpt from “Ghazal,” from
Wade in the Water
. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota,


Thank you for being willing to carry these words with you.

It wasn’t easy to write, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to read. For your getting here, I salute you.

While penning this book, I often felt lost at sea. All my thanks, in no particular order, to those who have kept me afloat until I reached the shore.

This book was written in Los Angeles, which is Tongva land. I want to thank the original keepers of this beautiful place I call home.

I’m exceptionally grateful for my selfless and tireless agent, Steve Malk, whom I consider not only a close friend but family. Thank you for constantly believing in me and the meaning of this book, even when I was bone-tired and doubtful.

All my thanks to my editor, Tamar Brazis, who was so gentle and generous in helping me bring my full vision of this work to life. I’d like to give huge applause to my Penguin Random House team, including but not limited to Markus Dohle, Madeline McIntosh, Jen Loja, Ken Wright, Felicia Frazier, Shanta Newlin, Emily Romero, Carmela Iaria, Krista Ahlberg, Marinda Valenti, Sola Akinlana, Abigail Powers, Meriam Metoui, Jim Hoover, Opal Roengchai, Grace Han, and Deborah Kaplan.

To my English teachers throughout my education, who helped hold and hone my love of literature—Shelly Fredman (who first made me realize I wanted to be a writer), Alexandra Padilla and Sara Hammerman (who magnanimously shepherded me through that torturous patch that is high school), Laura van den Berg (who taught me to write to my ghosts and not run from them), Christopher Spaide (who taught me contemporary poetry with both a keen and kind eye), and Leah Whittington and Daniel Blank (who helped me fall in love with the classics and Shakespeare). I’m also indebted to other teachers—Eric Cleveland, Pop, for supporting my fascination with biology and for your weekly fatherly texts to make sure I was still alive and actually eating while knee-deep in writing this thing; Bart Barnokowski, for rigorously introducing me to the cultural sociology that I depend on in my work; Álvaro Lopez Fernandez, Marta Olivas, the team at
, IES Madrid, and my Spanish host family (hola, Pilar y Marucha!), who so lovingly tended to my learning of the Spanish language. I promise I still remember, um . . . some of it.

To my Weekly Writer Support Group, Taylor and Najya—where would I be without our Saturday morning FaceTime check-ins? (The answer is “not done with this book.”) Thank you for being my cheerleaders with pens for pom-poms. To my cousin Maya for sending me funny videos when I need them and always making me laugh.

To Tara Kole and Danny Passman, my lawyer parents, who are my two last remaining brain cells on any given day, thank you for so fervently believing in my journey from the very first day we met. I cherish you both dearly.

To Caroline Sun, my book publicist, and Laura Hatanaka, my assistant, you are the indomitable mother hens who always put my time, sanity, and creativity first (even if I mostly use that time to mindlessly send you
Star Trek
GIFs—hee hee), as well as to Courtney Longshore for her tireless support behind the scenes.

A big hug for their incredible encouragement to Sylvie Rabineau, Michelle Bohan, Romola Ratnam, Pierre Elliott, Brandon Shaw (AKA BS), and Carmine Spena. Queen-worthy claps to my fierce and fabulous press gladiators, Vanessa Anderson and Erin Patterson, as well as the entire AM PR Group.

I am also indebted to my high school writing mentors: Michelle Chahine and Dinah Berland from the nonprofit WriteGirl, who spent Wednesday afternoons writing with me at loud tea shops while I messily munched on crumbly coffee cake, and India Radfar, who mentored me at Beyond Baroque. Thanks to Jamie Frost, my former speech therapist, as well as my spiritual-doppelganger mentor, Blessing.

A huge shout-out to Urban Word, a program that supports youth poets laureate in more than sixty cities, regions, and states nationally, which has given me the incredible honor of serving
as a youth poet laureate several times in my life. Thank you to Vital Voices, who funded my community literacy project One Pen One Page, and to the ongoing support of Nicco Melle and Mass Poetry as well as Jen Benka and the Academy of American Poets.

I’m deeply appreciative of my fellow poets for their support: Tracy K. Smith, who has been a fairy god-poet to me ever since we shared the stage at the Library of Congress; Richard Blanco, who is always a phone call away and willing to speak with me in Spanish just so I can practice; Elizabeth Alexander, who called immediately when I was named the 2020 inaugural poet and gave me spiritual soul food over the phone. I’m also thankful for the poetry magic of Jacqueline Woodson, Eve Ewing, Clint Smith, Luis Rodriguez, and Juan Felipe Herrera, whose work inspires me perennially.

To Lin-Manuel Miranda, who years ago let my speechless self tuck a poem into his hand. To Malala, your friendship means so much to this girl. To Oprah, your mentorship, guidance, and luminosity is such a privilege.

Dr. Merije, I know you had to visit me tooooo many times because I’d run myself sick and ragged working on this. But you always did it with a joke, which made the sniffles worth it.

We’re almost to the end, folks! To my Girl Gang, Alex, Haley, and Bib, thanks for dealing with my moans about this book over group chat.

Above all, I’m deeply indebted to my family: my fierce, fabulous, and formidable mom, who made me everything I am today; my talented twin and ride-or-die partner in crime since diapers, Gabrielle (GG); my grandmothers, for persistently making sure I’m eating, sleeping, and taking my vitamins; and the fluffy pooch Lulu, who sits beside me whenever I’m struggling to finish a poem. I love you all with every beating of my heart.

Thank you to God. Thank you, my ancestors.

I am the daughter of Black writers. I am descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me. I carry them always.




Several poems in this ebook were captured as images to retain their original formatting. In this section, those poems are available as reflowable text.


Take tragedy, write a book.

Look. Only when we’re drowning

do we understand how fierce our feet c

an kick. We were mar, marred & moaning,

thick sea. How much more wreck do we have

within us. Wherever we look, there’s a body des

troyed. We were told never to use I when writing,

because eliminating this voice makes arguments le

gitimate. But we realize there is nothing that convin

ces like the self does—our life, our body & its beating,

proving its own jagged point. Tell us what is more pow

erful than the unerased. Those men spent months, lost

on waves, seeing no faces but their own, bleached by a se

a of burns. Wait long enough & boys can become barbed

as beasts, beards dripping down their chests like scarves. Does

what survives, what is salvaged, need to be so savage? Is this the

sea we rise from, not more animal, but more human? Haggard.

Hobbled. Heart-strung. Yes. But human. & human. In other wor

ds, we become what we hunt, as we inevitably begin to think like

our prey. The slain fueled the lamps of a world latched to nights,

our whole century brightened by blood. When that whale slaugh

tered their ship, there was no doubt that hatred could live hosted

in a creature. Whaling is like going to war, we may not return from

the illegible wreckage. Drifting by now on shaking, small boats, the

stranded crewmen turned away from the promise of land, dreading

cannibals, those red fables of the foreign. That one decision stre

tched out their horror the length of a raging ocean. Were we

any different, any less rent, rapt & lost. Loss is undecipher

able. Can you even be rescued if you’ve been ruined.

We can see them now, after the fever of months,

at the tail end of their blue nightmares,

the flesh of friends flush against

their teeth. They had eaten 7

of their own men. We

become what we flee

& what we fear.

Who can pay

the price of

light. We may

be wrong.

We are wrong often.

But we refuse to believe

that the only way we learn

is by whip & woe, the dart of disaster.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy for us

to lie. Even the body has tells, even our blood runs toward

truth. We are born right, trusting, unlimited, with all that we love

never banished. Look—our    palms open but unemptied,

just like a blooming thing. We’re   walking forward, also harboring

just this     one life.

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BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
5.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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