poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Holly Bass



I am indigo
the color of soul

a black slave
dying white cotton
dark blue

a sea island
full of slave women
bearing new slaves
unaware of emancipation’s

hands stained
with so much indigo
blood seeps black first
pine tar deep
before I can see
it is as red
as everybody else’s

indigo stains the teeth
when you sink them,
ivory, into the
poisoned plum of me

the shroud of my sadness is such
that even black spirituals
sung in backwater churches
cannot rescue me
from my desolation

I’m so blue
the black sea
borrows its hue from me

so blue
sapphires merely emulate
my absence

there are no words for this
in my poor slave’s English

I am
an open wound in an inconspicuous place
a comfortable agreement with death

I am

a slave dance
after a long day of work

I am

the broken neck of a dreamer
the opposite of an orgasm

gatemouth brown cannot utter
my essence
taj mahal cannot wail
my presence
robert johnson came close—
touched his fingers to the surface
of my shimmering waters,
then played ghost

said he’d rather deal
with the spirit world
than exist forever
in my netherworld—
I couldn’t blame him

this blue is the birthplace of blackness
there is no deeper beginning
i live in sadness
i live in sadness
i live in sadness
i live in sadness




Holly Bass is a writer, performer and director. A Cave Canem fellow, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, nocturnes (re)view, Role Call and The Ringing Ear. Her performances been workshopped and presented at the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage and the Experience Music Project. She has received numerous grants from the DC Arts Commission as well as a Future Aesthetics grant from the Ford Foundation/Hip Hop Theater Festival. She is the Countee Cullen Poet-in-Residence for Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC where she coordinates open mic nights and writing workshops for the public.


Published in Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2011.


To read more by this author:
Holly Bass
Holly Bass: Audio Issue
Holly Bass: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue (introduction), Vol. 10:3,
Summer 2009
Holly Bass: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue (poems)