Remix: For My People - Text

A crowdsourced poem curated and assembled by Natasha Trethewey
through a project with the American Academy and PBS

Released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021

Remix: For My People

—after Margaret Walker Alexander

A video of members of the public and the Academy reading this crowdsourced poem is available here.

 

For my people on the front lines of hospitals, grocery stores, and classrooms;

my people driving dusty roads with voter forms,
praying, singing, witnessing
tiny white hospitals with no room for COVID patients,
scattered homes with no wifi, and beautiful fields
with monstrous prisons; my people
holding God and voting close;

For my people dancing in Atlanta’s sultry streets, chilling in Marion, Ohio,

baking cast-iron cakes on Ellsworth in Columbus,
wrestling hospital tubes to wrangle healing, baptizing
in cleansing deep-South waters, rising to stitch and gather,
marching with one voice, building with faith-strong hands;

For my people rolling along 123, past Whispering Pines and Liberty,

interrupted by hay bales and truck farms as the leaves orange
and purple light filters through the clouds and echoes in the redbuds
on the walk down Sloan to class or the tavern to talk
of poets and tomorrow and people; who hunch over desks
staring at screens flickering and buzzing like neon; my people
waiting to laugh in a booth or grasp a hand
or for a reason to drive—or a destination;

For my people by rivers and lakes who have made cities home,

where the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio meet, three bodies deep,
where the Mississippi courses through silt loam and tamaracks,
where the memory of Lake Texcoco waves
to Lake Michigan’s constant horizon;

For my people who sit at bedsides, a draft coming through the window,

reading stories from pages turned years ago; my people
who scrub floors on their knees with Ozick in their ears,
who kiss boo boos and slammed fingers while dreaming of lifelines
in the red tinted darkness, bright eyes in the lamplight blinking in time
with the future coming down the tracks, echoing
hollow in the divots between the ties;

For my people, all of us who find ourselves caught by a simple thing:

the sight of a bird, tenderness, bare feet on cool cement, shade and water
and sitting close together;

For my people who found connection in dingy bars; who built families out of nothing,

and who loved against the law, dancing until the sun rises,
fighting the good fight, lending their voices demanding love, peace, change,
justice, joy and liberation, their fists high in the sky; for my people,
be they weak or be they strong, whose feet blister and arms ache
from carrying the burdens of ancestors;

For my people, sick and tired of being sick and tired yet rising up day upon day;

for the mothers who buried their children; for the fallen, for every
hoodie, chokehold, botched arrest, wrong knock, back shot—
my people, ready for revolution; 

For my people shamed for their languages—shut up, beat up, tongues cut up—

my people who survive, who rebuild, who imagine again and again,
my people who rise up and create through the heaviness,
singing the jibaros’ songs and toiling day in and day out;

For my people, the kids called Gringo in one home, illegal & unwanted

in the other, who understand two cultures, those who knew—
as soon as they could read—what payments and taxes are,
who know being bilingual is an asset
but are afraid to be harassed speaking Spanish in a store, my people
with a foot in two worlds who created their own culture; 

For my people who don’t fit in, always looking for a place to belong,

the queers and the femmes and the failures, the artists and the activators,
dreaming organizing playing searching cuddling waiting teasing loving
and choosing a family in whose arms we can rest;

For my people whose homeland was lost, who fled with nothing,

who crammed into tiny apartments and worked dead end jobs;
who impressed on their children the value of education;
my people cramped in steerage, separated by language, united
by poverty and religion and food and song, my people lifting us
with callused hands to be doctors lawyers leaders artists professors and

Americans—my people, Diné (Navajo Nation); for the ancestors’ resilience,

resistance, and radical hope; for the land we were born to;
my people who survived and thrived in spite of…;
my people diverse in politics and tolerance; my people
weary and suspicious of much, yet grateful for this new home;

For my people blasting jazz and rock and hip hop, classical and soul and funk,

using the rhythms to shake the demons of times past, to revel in the joy
of the present and blessings of the future; my people ever mourning
ever tear full, asking why and what and where to; my people
ever seeking ever hopeful, knowing not the time
their turn will come—

Let the spaces made empty, fill: 

for all of us
every word a sepulcher, every syllable a stone rolled away.

—Curated and assembled by Natasha Trethewey

Watch the full video reading of the poem here.

To watch Natasha Trethewey’s interview with PBS American Portrait, go here.

Promotional video for “Remix: For My People”
Natasha Trethewey, former Poet Laureate and Academy member

“Responding to Margaret Walker Alexander’s classic poem, “For My People,” this new poem is a compendium of voices—a collective poem written by Americans all across the country to celebrate and pay homage to our shared and diverse communities—our people.

"At this moment, it can stand as a sober and joyful testament to our tumultuous time—a kind of inaugural poem for this new beginning—written not by a single poet but made up of a representative cross-section of American voices highlighting not only the individual or separate challenges in our communities, but also our shared experience as Americans.”

— Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize recipient, 19th U.S. Poet Laureate, Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University, and Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and Cochair of its Commission on the Arts

Learn more about the Academy’s Commission on the Arts

 

Read Margaret Walker Alexander’s 1937 poem “For My People” here.