Roger Reeves

Roger Reeves headshot

Roger Reeves is the author of Dark Days: Fugitive Essays (Graywolf, 2023) and Best Barbarian (W.W. Norton & Co., 2022), a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Tracy K. Smith called it “a revelation and a form of reparation.” His debut collection is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013), a Library Journal  Best Poetry Book of the year, and winner of the Larry Levis Reading Prize, the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, and a John C. Zacharis First Book Award. His poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, two Cave Canem Fellowships and a Whiting Award. 

He earned a B.A. in English from Morehouse College, an M.A. in English from Texas A & M University, an MFA from the James A. Michener Center for Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently a fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and an associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Standing in the Atlantic

–Roger Reeves

We were after death and before. Rising
Out of the drowned kingdom,
Some walked in the direction of Mali
Toward the blue chant coming from the cow
Skin and string stretched over the calabash’s mouth,
A kora carrying Timbuktu’s salt market—
Its holler and gold—over the executioners,
The sharks’ desolate dorsal fins cutting
The horizon, the ocean into before
And after I could no longer touch
My mother’s name, the night her fingers
Make when they touch my eyelids
Which is the origin of night—
A woman’s hand to your face, a fire after,
Walking beneath it until a bird lifts dawn
Over an orchid’s screaming white head and the stone-
Colored cat crouching in the grass waiting
To pounce on dawn’s light emissary
Drowning, drowning in dawn.
Some of the drowned walked through
The emptying waves toward the indigo
Bushes burning on an unknown shore,
Their names called on brick plantations,
In rows of cotton, the thorn of which
Mixed them down to blood and land
And someone calling out to them for rest,
A night, a forest, a snake to ride
Out of the marsh buckling down into heat,
Leech, and the crooked day laboring
Their laboring bodies, its fingers jammed
Into their mouths, prying their lips apart
As if to see into that little bit of privacy,
The darkness, covering their runagate
Runagate hearts. The memory of wood,
Tunisia burned; this call put into the dead
For rest, a forest, a snake to ride.
Do you not hear our names being called,
Said a man who carried the splinters
Of wood from the ship’s belly beneath his nails.
Do you not hear your name?

Published in The New Yorker on October 11, 2021.