In this poem by Yona Harvey, the idea of Legacy is underscored not only through oppression but the enduring spirit of Black womanhood in power connecting to her primordial spirit.
The River Wanderer
by Yona Harvey
There was a river turned to Goddess. Was kin to river turned to Flame.
As a child I dreamt that river. None could keep me from that vision.
They lowered me in the Mighty Waters. Lowered me in the Creek of Shame.
Others tried the Brook of Whispers. None could save me. None could, save me.
Still I dreamt the River Snowdrift. To my kin, I made no sense. Those folks
out there shall never love you, said my Preacher. Said my Pa. Still
I shivered when I wakened. (Ganga of Glaciers, Ganga of Snow). Left with Mama’s
only bread. Left to find the cold that called me: You my sister. You, my sister.
Come now sister, ashes & all. (Ganga of Glaciers, Ganga of Snow, Ganga of Forgiven).
Wash me now, sister. Rest my shoulder on the shore. Lift my ashes
to your sky. Once our Mama raised our arms: so we could speak the sacred tongues.
To speak in tongues was to. relent. To call the water that would drown us—
firmament. Torrent, let go. Torrent, let go. I’ll meet you at the River’s Bottom,
dressed in silver scales with fin. You’ll clutch my hand, we’ll swim in circles.
Taunt the serpents, taunt the sharks. & when the glaciers get to melting,
all God’s River’s we shall haunt. All God’s Rivers we shall haunt.
Page 181, Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing.
Yona Harvey is the author of Hemming the Water (Four Way Books, 2013), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in poetry. Her poems and essays can be found in The Force of What’s Possible: Accessibility and the Avant-Garde and Writing Away the Stigma: Ten Courageous Writers Tell True Stories About Depression, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, OCD, PTSD & more. She contributed to Marvel’s World of Wakanda, a companion series to the bestselling Black Panther comic, and co-wrote with Ta-Nehisi Coates Marvel’s Black Panther and The Crew. She earned an MFA from Ohio State University and is an assistant professor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the inaugural winner of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award in poetry from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Photograph by Yona Harvey.
Yona Harvey’s “River Wanderer” is part of KPI’s small experiments of radical intent series: Postcards to the Future: Protest in Place to uplift and celebrate Black women’s voices, July-Nov 2020. Navigate through this series by following the tag Postcards, at left.