Ellen June Wright

After Learning of His Castration

grieved I the eleven year old / born just before the end of slavery / who needed a home / needed a protector / so agreed to castration / so he would be no threat to his protector’s daughter / so he would have a roof and access to learning / I grieved for George Washington Carver / all that genetic genius gone down into the grave / leaving no son successor / and he was so much more than we learned in school / more than peanuts and all their uses / that was only the beginning / and his high-pitched voice / and his lonely heart were silent to us children / who paid him little mind because / he was an agriculturalist / we saw no flash, no hero in his story / but we were only children and had no idea / what was sacrificed / so a black boy could become a man of science then / and not have his back and will broken / picking in green and red strawberry fields / could have a life of the mind / of research and imagination / someone took his manhood / before he knew what it was / he carried the castration in his voice / undeveloped beyond that of a choir boy / and at his death, upon his body they would find / scar tissue where his testicles should’ve been / I want to know my history / know it better, know it deep as Langston’s muddy rivers / but I need to buy a black velvet hat and vail / for all the sorrow I will unearth / for all the dirges, welling up, I will hum.

for Tyre Nichols

I think of agrarian culture and see farmer’s-tanned men in straw hats and white tunics with sleeves rolled up and tattered slacks among fields turned bright-green under the yellow-ocher sun just as a French impressionist would have rendered them and smell fresh cut grass tossed upon the land to dry; they spread cuttings after May’s mowing with sickle or scythe and return sometime later to gather and bundle it for sale or for livestock they husband daily.

When I hear haymaker, I think of the apparatus for rolling bales, until they’re taller than a man, that rest on the fields.

The last thing I think of when I hear haymaker is a blow, a tight fist, cocked back like a catapult ready to spring forward against a man’s cheek, a tom-tom’s beat until his jaw is broken, a man with hands cuffed behind his back, already tased and pepper sprayed, tossed about like a burlap doll filled with straw; then left to sit upon wet asphalt, propped up against the police cruiser, until our silhouette slumps over.

Ellen June Wright

Ellen June Wright was born in England and currently lives in New Jersey. She has consulted on guides for three PBS poetry series. Her work was selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week in June 2021, and she recently received five 2021 Pushcart Prize nominations.