Cleaning Graves in Calvert

by Abby Wendle


“Cleaning Graves in Calvert” recounts a burial ritual in a small town in Texas. The poem prompts one reader to recall the unmarked mass graves from the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. In this segment, a group of men read Quraysh Ali Lansana’s poem and share their thoughts on family and death.

Read the poem below.

For Papa Johnny Hodge, my Great-Great Grandfather.

under a crying elder willow
we meet the 107 degree shade
bearing thirsty earth
from which i sprang.

a safehouse next door to
a tinderbox church.
sanctuary from hot

lone star nights.
though your face is hidden
i feel you
in the folds of mama’s hands.

in my blood
i hear you. calling
beyond the tired summer
crops to bring us here.

we were the last to know
ritual precedes emancipation.

This poem appears in the chapbook, bloodsoil (sooner red), published by Voices from the American Land in 2009. Copyright owned by Quraysh Ali Lansana. Quraysh Ali Lansana, born in Enid, Oklahoma, is a poet and professor in Chicago, where he directs the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University. Lansana has written or edited fifteen books.