NEW WORK FROM NIKKY FINNEY
The first feature-length poem to be published in Oxford American
Edited by Rebecca Gayle Howell
"I wanted to write a poem that traveled from the horror of one day to the lifting of our chins the next—that paid homage to how we keep moving; keep stepping forward; inventing whatever is next to invent; constructing, fashioning iron chains into wings; how we continue to fold and shape into a future what has been kept from us, regardless of the brutality that still chases us." —from the Introduction by Nikky
Commissioned in 2013 by the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland, “The Battle Of And For The Black Face Boy” began as an occasional poem written to commemorate this year’s sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s end. As Finney drafted the work, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Michael Brown was shot, and the civil rights movement now known as Black Lives Matter began to rise.
“The Battle Of And For The Black Face Boy”—fifteen pages in length—represents an original vision, what Finney calls “a radical libretto.” Drawing from modernism, the poem moves between centuries and travels across the ocean highway of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and throughout the United States. The poem is available in the Fall 2015 issue of Oxford American. Find it at a newsstand near you, or subscribe to the magazine to receive a copy.
A NEW DAY DAWNS: NIKKY ON THE CONFEDERATE FLAG
Published in The State
Watch a video of Nikky reading the poem here.
It is the pearl blue peep of day. All night the Palmetto sky was seized with the aurora and alchemy of the remarkable. A blazing canopy of newly minted light fluttered in while we slept. We are not free to go on as if nothing happened yesterday, not free to cheer as if all our prayers have finally been answered today. We are free, only, to search the yonder of each other’s faces, as we pass by, tip our hat, hold a door ajar, asking silently who are we now? Blood spilled in battle is two-headed: horror and sweet revelation. Let us put the cannons of our eyes away forever. Our one and only Civil War is done. Let us tilt, rotate, strut on. If we, the living, do not give our future the same honor as the sacred dead – of then and now – we lose everything. The gardenia air feels lighter on this new day, guided now by iridescent fireflies, those atom-like creatures of our hot summer nights, now begging us to team up and search with them for that which brightens every darkness. Soon, it will be just us again, alone, beneath the swirling indigo sky of South Carolina, working on the answer to our great day’s question: Who are we now? What new human cosmos can be made of this tempest of tears, this upland of inconsolable jubilation? In all our lifetimes, finally, this towering undulating moment is here.
Nikky Finney, 9 July 2015