Example poetry

National Poetry Month: Meilani Clay, “Birthright”

Oakland poet, Meilani Clay. (Meilani clay)

Editor’s note: Welcome to national poetry month. Twice a week in April, KQED Arts & Culture will present a poem by a Bay Area poet. This series is organized by correct host Pendarvis Harshaw, who also speaks with each poet about their work.

“Birthright”, by Meilani Clay

I’m tired of writing poems for white people

so I gave birth to one they can’t read

a coppery poem

overhauled for 37 weeks and 5 days

a poem with my exuberance

helix wrapped around each loop

Ilaugh out loud to the sky

a poem with my resistance

engraved in a tiny pleated brow

I gave birth to a poem with my rage

alchemized with a golden voice

Never step back

never silent on command

a poem with my hope

neatly sewn to his sternum

a little patchwork but still certain

I gave birth to a poem

who knows no words

but synonymous with love and freedom

a poem that rolls down the sidewalks

ecstatic cries prayers placed at the highest altar

the eyelids of this poem

are lined with the silk of my faith

this poem is invincible

again, one day, although I gave birth to this poem

the poem of this people

I know someone will try to read it, anyway

otherwise they will demand that I translate

but the poem that I gave birth to

was never intended for their understanding

because between the lines of the eyelashes of this poem

I placed a single dream:

a future which is that of this poem

and this poem is alone

for writing

Meilani clay
Oakland poet Meilani Clay, whose book “And the Stream Does Not Rise” was published in December 2021. (Meilani clay)

Pendarvis Harshaw: What inspired that?

Meilani Clay: At the start of the pandemic, I was in the audience at a Zoom fundraiser for Marcus Books with some of the dope poets (e.g. Chinaka Hodge, Danez Smith, etc.) and someone there- low – i feel so bad i can’t for the life of remember this person’s name – talked about writing a poem about a concept or a person, where instead of naming it you say ” this poem is/made/etc”, then you shared amazing examples.

I had tried to successfully write a poem about my almost 3 year old (at the time) but they all came out corny or just not what I was trying to say. After hearing this poet, I was able to use this configuration to write him the love letter I wanted to write.

How did you feel when this poem was born?

It felt like a release! The same way her actual birth felt, I let out that huge sigh of relief that I had managed to bring her back to earth safely.

You came to Bay Area poetry circles (Youth Speaks). How does it feel to be an adult practicing this art in the bay now? Any difference?

What’s interesting about my background is that I haven’t been able to participate much in the Bay Area’s adult poetic scene. I came home at a time in my life when I was really struggling to write, then this snowball of college, career, family took me even further away from work and I came back greater during this pandemic, where the human connection so vital to all the arts has disappeared.

All this to say that I feel new in this field, even if I am faithful to it. But I was lucky to be connected to some ridiculously smart and creative people who brought me into the fold. I’m on my way back.

More information on Meilani Clay’s recently published book of poetry, and the stream does not risecan be found here.


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