Poetry

June Jordan – Poem for a Young Poet

Most people search all
of their lives
for someplace to belong to
as you said
but I look instead
into the eyes of anyone
who talks to me

– June Jordan


‘And so poetry is not a shopping list,’ wrote June Jordan, who was an activist, advocate, and one of the most widely-published Jamaican-American poets of the last century. Her view of poetry was that it could be a mobilizing force, a way of engaging with the world that meant ‘taking control of the language of your life.’ This work, Poem for a Young Poet, is published in a new collection of Jordan’s work produced between 1971 and 2001 that encompasses the powerful, critical and compassionate energy at the heart of Jordan’s writing. In it, she expresses the desire for love and for connection, to see past the surface of the skin and face of what and who she encounters, deeper into the shared essence of being that underlies difference.


Poem for a Young Poet

Dedicated to Erwin Cho-Woods
May 27, 1997

Most people search all
of their lives
for someplace to belong to
as you said
but I look instead
into the eyes of anyone
who talks to me

I search for a face
to believe and belong to
a loosening mask
with a voice
ears
and a consciousness
breathing through
a nose
I can see

Day to day
it’s the only way
I like to travel
noticing the colors of a cheek
the curvature of brow
and the public declarations
of two lips

Okay!
I did not say male
or female
I did not say Serbian or Tutsi
I said
what tilts my head
into the opposite of fear
or dread
is anyone
who talks to me

A face
to claim or question
my next step away
or else towards

fifteen anemones
dilated well beyond apologies
for such an open centerpiece
that soft
forever begs for bees

one morning
and the birdsong and the dewstruck
honeysuckle blending
invitations to dislodge
my fingers tangling with my sunlit
lover’s hair

A face
to spur or interdict
my mesmerized approach
or else
my agonized reproach

to strangulations of the soul
that bring a mother
to disown
her children
leaving them alone to feed
on bone and dust

A face
despite a corpse
invasion of the cradle
where I rock my love
alive

A face
despite numb fashions
of an internet connection between nobody
and no one

A face
against the narcoleptic/antiseptic
chalk streaks
in the sky
that lie
and posit credit cards
and starched de facto exposé
as copacetic evidence
that you and I
need no defense
against latrine
and bully bullet-proof decisions
launched by limousines
dividing up the big screen
into gold points
cold above the valley
of the shadow of unpardonable
tiny
tiny
tiny
this breathing and that breath
and then
that and that
that death

I search a face
a loosening mask
with voice
ears
and a consciousness
breathing through
a nose
that I can see

I search a face
for obstacles to genocide
I search beyond the dead
and
driven by imperfect visions
of the living
yes and no
I come and go
back to the eyes
of anyone
who talks to me

June Jordan (1936-2002)
From: The Essential June Jordan. Used with permission from Copper Canyon Press. 2021.


Leave a Reply