Kai Coggin for Mid-America Arts Alliance


Kai Coggin, wearing a golden hat, black trenchcoat, and black t-shirt that sayd TEACH THE TRUTH, gives a land acknowledgement and brief artist statement.
Kai Coggin, American Poet & Author

Izibongo for Black Women (a praise poem after JP Howard, for my Sisters)

praise you Black Woman

because you never be praised enough

let me lift your collective name here

let me strip you of all your forced-on shame here

praise you for the stars that unfold when you smile

praise you for the way moons rise in your eyes

praise you for your tragic hope and sacrifice

life for you ain’t been no crystal stair

but you still keep climbin’ on

praise Langston’s mama

praise her wisdom and truth


praise you Black Woman

because you never be praised enough

praise be your laugh

let me say that again because it’s the song

that makes the planet spin

praise be your laugh

how it cackles and coos loud brassy beautiful

unafraid and unbroken

honey and fire


praise you Black Woman

because you never be praised enough

praise your natural hair and its curls

how whole galaxies swirl in the furls of you

praise your box braids and your twist outs

praise your locs and your bantu knots

praise how I got a Sister whose afro blocks out the sun

praise how I got another Sister whose afro is so tall

God uses it for a microphone

infuses her as gospel

Black Woman

praise your fingers braiding and trading beads

and weaving histories into wild glorious hair

the ceremony of pulling

praise your pulling

praise your pushing

pushing back on all that no longer makes room

for your crown

here Queen— here is your crown


praise the Motherland of your womb

how everything comes from you

and is stolen from you

and is returned to you again in glory

or entombed

I can’t begin to know your story but

praise you Black Mama

forgive us for what we have done

and all that we still do

how we don’t do right by your Black sons

how they are followed all their lives

by the shadows of guns

and how your Black daughters atlas the weight

of systemic cycles yet undone

and you still teach them to lift their faces to the sun

praise Breonna Taylor right here


praise you Black Woman

how you still raise continents of sons and daughters

despite their predisposition to being slaughtered

how the Atlantic ocean is still found in your transatlantic tears

the salt of you betrayed and splayed out

creating lands under your feet from all your centuries of grief

praise you as homeland

praise you as shore of a brighter world

praise the holy map of you

praise the North Star

that hangs from your earlobe like a pearl

praise you Black Mama

for how you hold the world

praise your swaddle and thick body

your warmth and your song

how you lullaby the night with a defiant hope

praise your hope

praise your dreams

praise the scripture of your face

praise the lines on your hands and crows-feet hymns

make an altar of my tongue

so that my words are poetic reparation

burn nag champa and sage in praise of your fire

praise be your fire

praise your persistence and your resistance

praise how you Harriet your children to a new freedom

praise how you Rosa until someone else offers you a seat at the table

praise how you Audre deliberate and afraid of nothing

praise how you Maya rising and phenomenal

praise how I got a Sister who named her daughter Revolution

Black Woman praise you

how your heroes and saints speak to you from the edge of the world

how your ancestors tell you the mountaintop is near

how every step toward freedom

is emblazoned into your DNA

encoded in your retaliations of Black Joy

praise your Black Joy

praise your Black Joy


praise you Black Woman

because you never be praised enough

praise your hips

praise your thighs

praise your arms and your legs

praise your back and your heavy head

praise your neck and them tight-ass shoulders

praise your temples

and how your whole beautiful Black Woman body

is a Temple

praise you Black Temple

praise your knees and your elbows

your fingers and your toes

praise your perfect beautiful Black nose

and your perfect lips

praise your voice that sings and hums and hallelujahs

praise your voice that shouts for justice

that leads us all to shout beside you BLACK LIVES MATTER


Sister praise you

praise your heart for all that you bear

praise your ears for all that you hear

praise your eyes for all that you see

how your eyes and ears sometimes

bring you your biggest fears

and yet somehow somehow you soldier on

praise you Black Woman

I don’t know how you be so strong

I don’t know how you be so strong


this praise poem could just go on and on and on and on

because Sister—you never be praised enough




Fertile

I have so much

dirt

under my fingernails

from gardening


so much thick soil

new mooning black

I could plant ten thousand seeds

in these garden (nail)beds

and sprout a whole forest of trees


make a whole ecosystem

under my touch

huddle

the howling fox

the heavy elephant

the sky-kissing giraffe

the wild black bear

and quick cheetah

to rest quiet in my palms


perch the screech owl

the eagle

and the wide-wing condor

between my fingers


lifelines turned riverbed

fresh with moving water for all who thirst


because I have so much

of the earth

under my fingernails

coated

on my hands


I swear that

my whole body is fertile

for planting




Tendrils

I seem to be finding

all of my poems

in the garden,


this isolation from people

has me speaking

in the language of leaves


and leaving, this morning

I find my poem in the raveling snow peas,

twisted up in their reaching


their climb and striving up

the guiding trellis all tendrils and swirl

all growing and beauty unfurling


more and more each moment,

the way I reach for you

more and more each moment,


all wanting and ache unfurling

the way my gentle tendrils reach and ravel

into the

space








between us.




Filling Spice Jars As Your Wife

It seems like all my poems

after this will be different,

they will hold a different weight

like how the weight of my heart

has shifted into indistinguishable float,

into lifting cloud,

into weightless flight tonight

as the rain gently falls

on the summer-heated tin roof,

the din of casual raindrops

and warm low lights glowing

and wind blowing through the house,

we have all our doors and windows open.


We have all our doors and windows open

and I am pouring spices into glass jars,

coriander cinnamon cumin ground sage

and it’s hard to describe this

moment in the confines of a page,

tiny hills of vibrant color

and intoxicating fragrance

and you hear the cadence

of my heart

from the kitchen

where you build perfect fitting slip-in shelves

for our spices over the stove,

match the colors,

match my colors to yours,

I have all my doors and windows open to you.


I have all my doors and windows open to you

and you have come all the way inside,

sat down at the table of my deepest desires

and lit a fire to warm us both,

the wind blowing through the house,

the rain gently giving way

to turmeric sunrise

and you, darling,


you are my wife.



You are my wife

and it’s like I have been waiting

my whole life

to say those words,

and I feel held in a way

I have never felt before,

to look down at my fingers

dusted with ginger and thyme

and see the gold of my wedding band

glint and shine in the warm low light glow,

I am yours

and you are mine,

promised on Zoom in our garden

of giant zinnia and hummingbird vines,

sung out in the morning song of bluebirds,

this union that ripples love out to the world

and infinities back into us again

love —

in the fine powder of these spices,

ground up essence of oregano and basil,

I see our love in every atom suddenly

and every cell in me finally exhales,

and perhaps that is the wind.


Perhaps that is the wind

blowing through the house,

this release of eternal searching

and finding you there,

calling me your forever,

naming me your always,

to have and to hold,

till death do we part and start all over again

looking only for each others’ hearts,

taking my life in your hands eternal,

marrying me to the heavens,

latching me to the star-trail of your white dress,

in this orbital dance,

this lift and spin,

this knowing from within

that all my poems after this will be different


because you are my wife.




Quantify (upon the milestone of 1,000,000 American COVID deaths, May 2022)

When we get beyond a certain number,

our brains just turn off,

we stop conceptualizing

the actual numbers

and just blur it

into abstract and unfathomable,

into words like countless and innumerable,

but let them all be counted—

let our dead neighbors come to the altar of rust,

the red and the blue and the red again,

let their names be inscribed among our unnecessary losses,

our vigilant stubbornness,

our unvaccinated ideals of freedom (and guns)

and let us say their one million names

as we try to keep turning this page in this chapter of collective grief.


It didn’t have to be this way.

the richest country in the world

with access to the best of science and medicine—

it didn’t have to be this way,

but let us bring our one million to this reckoning hour,

this internal reflection of what keeps breaking in this country.


Divided, we continue to fall, to die, to lose,

to choose the ideologies of hate

over the lives of our neighbors and this headstone

cannot hold all of their names,

this poem cannot count their disappearing syllables.


Two years ago,

I marked the morbid milestone of 100,000 dead Americans,

Memorial Day 2020.

I wrote my body into a makeshift memorial,

tried, with some poetic license,

to touch the fading portraits of strangers,

to dance with their ghosts in a country so ready to forget, to move on,

but how do we count the countless?


How do I quantify the unfathomable today?


How do I wrap a poem around one million breathless bodies?


One million is a thousand thousands.

One million pennies stacked up would reach almost a mile into the sky.

One million moments of silence one second long

would take eleven and a half noiseless days.

One million miles could fly us to the moon and back, twice

but here we remain, earthbound,

stuck in the orbit of cycles repeating,

violence waxing and waning with the tides

and rise of white supremacy

and just a couple weeks shy of George Floyd’s murder anniversary

an 18-year old white terrorist guns down

grannies and pop pops getting their groceries,

executes innocent Black folks on a social media livestream,

bookends of racial violence and a million dead neighbors—

is this still our American Dream?


Black Lives Matter.


These one million lives shattered by COVID also mattered to someone,

each with their own close circle of grief,

their own infinite ripple of loss,

sea to shining sea of tears.


One million is ten times one hundred thousand.

I was never too good at math,

but I know it just didn’t have to be this way.


How do we return to our selves?

How we we turn off the numbness and start to feel again?

How do we stop doom-scrolling and actually look in each others eyes?

How do we RE-sensitize our senses and see that we are all still connected?


I try to quantify,

to find what a million looks like compared to what I can understand—

a one with six zeroes,

but every zero becomes a hole

not deep enough for all the bodies

not wide enough for all those beautiful cut-short lives,

but let them all be counted,

let our dead neighbors come to the altar of rust,

the red and the blue and the red again.




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Order signed copies of Kai Coggin's latest collection Mining for Stardust here.



Thank you for reading, listening, and watching.
Thank you to Mid-America Arts Alliance, for supporting artists in the region, and amplifying voices like mine. I am truly humbled and filled with gratitude.


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