The Stuff of Astounding: A Poem for Juneteenth June 19, 2020 The Stuff of Astounding: A Poem for JuneteenthBy PATRICIA SMITH Unless you spring from a history that is smug and reckless, unless you’ve vowed yourself blind to a ceaseless light, you see us. We are a shea-shined toddler writhing through Sunday sermon, we are the grizzled elder gingerly unfolding his last body. And we are intent and insistent upon the human in ourselves. We are the doctor on another day at the edge of reason, coaxing a wrong hope, ripping open a gasping body to find air. We are five men dripping from the burly branches of young trees, which is to say that we dare a world that is both predictable and impossible. What else can we learn from suicides of the cuffed, the soft targets black backs be? Stuck in its rhythmic unreel, time keeps including us, even as our aged root is doggedly plucked and trampled, cursed by ham-fisted spitters in the throes of a particular fever. See how we push on as enigma, the free out loud, the audaciously unleashed, how slyly we scan the sky— all that wet voltage and scatters of furious star—to realize that we are the recipients of an ancient grace. No, we didn’t begin to live when, on the 19th June day of that awkward, ordinary spring—with no joy, in a monotone still flecked with deceit—Seems you and these others are free. That moment did not begin our breath. Our truths— the ones we’d been birthed with—had already met reckoning in the fields as we muttered tangled nouns of home. We reveled in black from there to now, our rampant hue and nap, the unbridled breath that resides in the rafters, from then to here, everything we are is the stuff of astounding. We are a mother who hums snippets of gospel into the silk curls of her newborn, we are the harried sister on the elevator to the weekly paycheck mama dreamed for her. We are black in every way there is—perm and kink, upstart and elder, wide voice, fervent whisper. We heft our clumsy homemade placards, we will curl small in the gloom weeping to old blues ballads. We swear not to be anybody else’s idea of free, lining up precisely, waiting to be freed again and again. We are breach and bellow, resisting a silent consent as we claim our much of America, its burden and snarl, the stink and hallelujah of it, its sicknesses and safe words, all its black and otherwise. Only those feigning blindness fail to see the body of work we are, and the work of body we have done. Everything is what it is because of us. It is misunderstanding to believe that free fell upon us like a blessing, that it was granted by a signature and an abruptly opened door. Listen to the thousand ways to say black out loud. Hear a whole people celebrate their free and fragile lives, then find your own place inside that song. Make the singing matter.