from Olio. Copyright 2016 by Tyehimba Jess. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.


Hear how sky opens its maw to swallow
Earth? To claim each being and blade and rock
with its spit? Become your own full sky. Own
every damn sound that struts through your ears.
Shove notes in your head till they bust out where
your eyes supposed to shine. Cast your lean
brightness across the world and folk will stare
when your hands touch piano. Bend our breath
through each fingertip uncurled and spread
upon the upright’s eighty-eight pegs.
Jangle up its teeth until it can tell
our story the way you would tell your own:
the way you take darkness and make it moan.




Who am I to deny this world? This gift
of music storming through me? It howls out
my fingers when I reach into God’s mouth
of piano, grabbin’ fistfuls of sun with
each song. It spins me in circles, surrounds
me in starshine, mounts my head, hands, and heart
till I tell it what it wants, tell it how
we are all one wave of notes in the dark
gospel of the universe. Can’t you hear
the chorus of moonlight? Can’t you see
the way each note shines? It’s all right here
just beneath the skin, like something I seem
to remember–the sound of my mother crying
while her hands danced across me–free, flying…

Detroit native TYEHIMBA JESS’ first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” Olio, his second collection, was published by Wave Books in April 2016. Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a 2004-2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000 – 2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TEDxNashville Conference. Jess is an Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island.

Jess’ fiction and poetry have appeared in anthologies such as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Power Lines: Ten Years of Poetry from Chicago’s Guild Complex, Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry. His poetry has appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review, Brilliant Corners, Ploughshares, Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora, Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, Mosaic, American Poetry Review, Indiana Review, Nashville Review and 580 Split.