by Ellen June Wright

(For Angela, enslaved, Jamestown, Virginia 1619)

My toes grip soil for the first time in months.
Trees here have limbs just as wide
as those in Ndongo though the air is spoiled

with the stench of tar and fires without cooking.
In the distance, I hear dogs yelp and bark;
they roam sniffing at every strange scent.

Then I’m pulled back to the sounds
and familiar gestures of bargaining,
to our cracked-lipped captors in need

of food and fresh water. They point to us.
Pull us up one by one, stretch our arms,
slap our limbs to show how fit we are.

Pull our lips to show our teeth—unbroken.
Dazed under summer’s sun, I watch dogs
roam unchained sniffing at the ground.

Ellen June Wright was born in England and currently lives in New Jersey. She has consulted on guides for three PBS poetry series. She is a Cave Canem and Hurston/Wright alumna. Her work was selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week in June 2021, and she received five 2021 Pushcart Prize nominations.