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American Life in Poetry: ‘I Am Bound for de Kingdom’

Kwame Dawes

By Kwame Dawes

Florence Price and Marian Anderson were two great American artists whose collaborations – Price as pianist, arranger and composer, and Anderson as exemplary singer – represented the triumph of art over adversity. Marlanda Dekine’s moving poem “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” is named after an African American spiritual for which these two Black women are famous. Dekine reminds us of the difficult world of racism experienced by their “ascendants” and shows how, with their art, they would take the risk and “leave the driveway.”

I Am Bound for de Kingdom

My granddaddy Silas was born on the Nightingale plantation

in Plantersville, South Carolina, on riverbanks that loved

three generations of my kin, captured

in a green-tinted photograph, hanging in my daddy’s den.

Tonight, my eyes will take each old-world bird from the cropped space,

send them home with their songs and favorite foods.

Look out for me I’m a-coming too

with rice, okra, hard-boiled eggs, and Lord Calvert.

My daddy says if I get out of my car on Nightingale land,

the folks who own it might shoot. My daddy says,

“Never leave the driveway.”

Glory into my soul

I watch all of my ascendants. Their faces reflecting me

in that photograph. Their eyes are dead

black-eyed Susans.

Poem copyright 2021 by Marlanda Dekine, “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” from Oxford American, Issue 115, Winter 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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