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Of No Nation, a Poem by A'Ja Lyons

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

I’ll never know their names

But I bear the signs of their pride

The sacrifices

The stains

Which bore many gifts

That led to my gains

The phonetics and poetics of my name

That map the linguistic trail of my bloodline

Pieces and particulars

Scattered and tarnished

Woven together for the tapestry that is me

Humble farmers

Forced to migrate

In waves of pain

Among dangerous waves

Of seas that swallowed

Pieces of me,

He, and she

In salvation

As we became those without a nation

Stranded from home

Without connector

Only our oppressor

Learning their tongue

But forever seeking

To find a way to communicate our sway

Blending and spinning while bound, chained, and caged

Weaving beauty and bounty from rags and scraps

A tapestry of our talents

The grand design of our shine

Perpetually dulled by the hull of a ship

that won't sink to the bottom of the ocean floor,

but will never rise to the surface

and allow us to catch a breath

With seasonings and scents,

Making delicacy from waste and bone

Holding, creating and shaping a home of our own

Amongst legislation, degradation, and intimidation

We crafted more than music,

A rhythm that resounded in both our wins and defeats

We took scraps and created capes and crowns,

Fashioning the superhero self

no matter how many fights we lose

Demons that slay us

And evils that poison our hearts

I descend from goat herders, potters, farmers, and fishermen

Forcibly taken and bodies drained

Their talents, talk, and tenacity trickled down the family tree

And rained blessings upon me

The glide in my stride

Sips of serenity in my gravied dishes

And the fullness of my sweet brown sugar kisses

I descend from the finest cooks, sharecroppers,

seamstresses, and servicemen

Who’ve laid fine dishes at the tables of royalty

Nursed, nannied, and nurtured numerous children

with no time to spare for our own seeds and fruit

Breasts emptied by strangers at sunrise,

Droplets left by nightfall to fill our baby’s tummies

Feasts prepared for those who pay a pittance

As our own cupboards are nearly bare

Laws leaving us limited to

lives lacking love and leisure

As we reconstruct and rearrange

New space and frames

The dominion to choose our own names

While it all mostly stayed the same

We remained in chains,

Legislated enslavement under new names

And polite faces

Social graces

Saying what is in fanciful wordplay and redlines

Beliefs in a dastardly divine

Declaring us beasts

No matter our fine dresses and lace

Three-piece suits

Coiffed hair and painted face

Long workdays

Dragging our bodies home in a daze

To wash, rinse, and repeat

Fighting a desire to crash in defeat

At war with reason and peace

A designed and ordained monstrosity

against generations of disgraced

For an imaginary stain

Used for capital gain

Long plights

Countless fights

War after war amidst moments of peace

But we never lost forms of our sweet release

Songs that carried across ocean and sky

Rhythm and tempo kept over centuries and continents

Cries, calls, and responses kept close within our spirits

Shared around corners and in midnight hushes

Across foreign lands made home

Recreating traces of a motherland

We mostly know in spirits

The shouting whispers of their memories and cries

Lying in our cells and deep-seated subconscious


A’Ja Lyons is a Black, bisexual writer from the Gulf Coast currently residing in the Upper Midwest. She is a second-year graduate student at Iowa State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing and the Environment. A’Ja is the proud mother of a highly athletically gifted and animal-loving child. A'Ja's poems have been published in several print and online publications, including Sinister Wisdom, Decolonial Passage, Response, and Lucky Jefferson.


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