Poem: Moon for Aisha

This epistolary poem is directed to a friend of the speaker’s, the poet Kamilah Aisha Moon, who died in 2021. The epistolary form is both intimate and expansive: It triangulates among the speaker, the subject (you) and a third, eavesdropping reader. This poem traverses an emotionally capacious friendship by cutting across time, imagining a past when two friends lived separately, not knowing each other yet, but somehow sensing each other’s presence. Some friendships are so special they seem to exist before, during and after time. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Moon for Aisha

— for Kamilah Aisha Moon, with a line after Cornelius Eady’s ”Gratitude”

By Aracelis Girmay

Dear Aisha,
I mean to be writing you
a birthday letter, though it’s not
September, the winter already
nearing, the bareness
of trees, their weightlessness,
their gestures —
grace or grief. The windows
of buildings all shining early, lit with light,
& I am only ten & riding
all of my horses home,
still sisterless, wanting sisters.

You do not know me yet.
In fact, we are years away
from that life. But I am thankful
for some inexplicable thing,
let’s call it “freedom,” or “night,” the terror
& glee of being outside late, after dark,
my mother’s voice shouting
for me beneath stars
which, I learned in school,
are suddenly not so different
from the small salt of fathers, & gratitude
for that, & for the red house of
your mother’s blood,
& then, you, all nearly grown,
all long-legged laughter,
already knowing all the songs
& all the dances,
not my friend, yet,
but, somehow — Out There.

In one version of our lives,
it is November.
Through a window I see
one of our elders is
a black eye of a woman, is
a thinker, & magnificent. At a desk,
she builds her house with her hands,
with paper, wood & clay, the years of light
& the years of dark. She sees oblivion
& turns, crowns her head,
instead, with flowers,
the upper & the lower worlds.
Lightning streaks the black mind
of her hair, she leaves
it there, then cleans the house
with laughter, dances broadly
in each room, a pirouette,
a wop. Out of doors, she dares to wear
the house key from a silver hoop recalling
the moon, the gleaming syllable: of
a planet dark with fires & time.
She is glorious, isn’t she?
It is always her birthday.
She has always lived
to tell a part
of the story of the world,
what happened here.

If not a moon, what can
we bring this woman who
walks ahead? For whom
you were named,
& whose name has been
added to by you
whose language crowns
the dark field of what has
been hushed, of what is
beautiful & black, & blue.

Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. Aracelis Girmay is the author of several books, including the poetry collections “Teeth” (Curbstone Press, 2007), “Kingdom Animalia” (BOA Editions, 2011) and “the black maria” (BOA Editions, 2016), from which this poem is taken.

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