Poem of the Week | January 21, 2019

This week we present “Black-Eyed Susan,” a new poem by Emily August.

Emily August is an assistant professor of literature at Stockton University, where she teaches courses in 19th-century British literature, creative writing, and medical humanities. Her poetry has received a Pushcart Prize nomination, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, Ninth Letter, Southern Humanities Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other journals. She lives in Philadelphia and St. Paul.


Black-Eyed Susan


Grandfather sharpens
the kitchen knives at his whetstone.

The wounded haunt
the fields of switchgrass that smother

the farm. Choked in heather
up to its tarpaper,

the rotting shed at the property’s edge
slowly dilapidates into the bed

of black-eyed Susan
planted long ago at its door.

Inside its walls, the tractor chains
grandfather inherited hang despondent,

clogged with the skins of the last generation
of crops. Grandfather labors

at the creek’s water,
holding the heads of his children

under. Grandfather looms
over his children, instilling

the belt. Grandfather blinds
his children’s eyes, seeking

the source of memory,
but he cannot erase himself

from the distance: the children bloom
into bruises of amber and green,

and they cultivate new blooms of blood
along their own children’s cheeks.

Eventually, all the children are born with scars
that mimic the tremor of household stitches,

lining their tiny bodies like old ghosts
who sharpen knives in the kitchen.


Author’s Note


I grew up hearing stories about the abuse my mother and her siblings suffered as children. I never experienced violence in the home myself, but those stories became part of the landscape of my childhood imagination. After surviving an abusive relationship during my young adulthood, I became interested in making sense of my own story by exploring my family’s legacy of domestic violence, going back generations. This poem, like much of my work, investigates how violence is learned, inherited, and passed down, both interpersonally and societally, and how the body records the traumas to which it is subjected.