Yes I Am / No, I Haint

I humbled my hand 
through a wound in Carolina
whereabout I learned how to purge

here where the gall smells
like gumbo and ashes 
of bodies like incense

I searched the insides like 
a midwife hoping for a birth
My hand trembled like a wailing

like grandma’s slap convulses 
your body for an hour 
She says, I’ll give you 

something to cry for
No, it was the haint saying
I’m crying for something to give

here where Carolina 
reapers purge some new 
bile from the body

where ghost peppers finger 
the ribs, strum the soul strings
I play the cage ‘round 
a haint’s splurged lungs

I say, breathe
They say, haint
I say, speak

They say, haint
I say, haint
They say,


Len Lawson is the author of Chime (Get Fresh Books, 2019) and the chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line Press, 2017). He is also editor of Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race (Muddy Ford Press, 2017) and The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry (Blair Press, 2021). His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He has earned fellowships from Tin House, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Callaloo, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts among others. His poetry appears in African American Review, Callaloo, Mississippi Review, Ninth Letter, Verse Daily, and has been translated internationally. Born and living in South Carolina, Len earned a PhD in English Literature and Criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is currently Assistant Professor of English at Newberry College.