Poem of the Week | January 20, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “We have traversed the blue sky” by Shamar Hill!

Shamar Hill, a Cave Canem Fellow, is the recipient of numerous awards including a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and a scholarship from Fine Arts Work Center. He has been published or has work forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Washington Square Review, Day One, Southern Humanities Review, and Kenyon Review Online. He is working on a poetry collection, Photographs of an Imagined Childhood, and a memoir, In Defiance of All True Things. Shamar is the Director of Institutional Giving & Stewardship at the Academy of American Poets.


We have traversed the blue sky

By the end of the 19th century
most scientists believed atoms real
but in crucial respects this acceptance

sprung from intuition rather than proof.
Marked by what we perceive
though we fool ourselves with our experiments.

Doctors would have told you they had proof.
The way I remember my father pushing
my mother down the stairs, remember her

rushed to the hospital, remember being born
two months premature.
That seems true. Someone could account

for my birth. There’s a certificate
with a date. The light scattered
in me, the light incoherent.

Plato understood the properties
of light and color as functions of our perception.
The eyes emit rays that join together with daylight

to form a luminous medium,
an incubator for the violence of sight.
I do not remember the weeks in an incubator

or my father saying I’m not his son when he split my mother open
as if to deny me the chance to meet my creator—
yanking me into blackness.

Darkness arbitrates the blue sky. And I fall upward
instead of down. Where my creator
holds my mother. That seems true.

The way Da Vinci says a dark object will appear
more blue when it has a larger amount of air
interposed between it and the eye,

as may be seen in the color of the firmament.
I’ve been afraid of drowning because
what have I known of breathing? I came into this world

a fish child, a small unformed thing
my mother steadied herself for
before she juddered down the stairs, suspended

between two realities.
To understand the molecular hypothesis,
Einstein studied the diffusion

of suspended particles, that is, their displacement
from their initial positions over time.
A boy waits at the top of the stairs

to be born.


Author’s Note

I am often looking to connect my obsession with supposedly simple questions, like why is the sky blue to my poetry. I was at the Cave Canem retreat and just walked up and down the library at the University. I found a book about that very question. I see it as elemental to my youth and perhaps youth in general. I took some notes and was really inspired by the great thinkers who have struggled with this question, like Plato, Galileo, Da Vinci, Einstein. I then decided to take the probing nature of the book and the way these thinkers took on the question and layer it with my birth story. I sensed that the blue sky and my birth could live in the same poem as a way to discuss possibility and hope, trauma and our limits, and what is beyond our limits. I decided to shape the poem in tercets because it lends the poem a probing feeling, the very form and shape echo a journey, an exploration, which is what the title conveys to open the poem so the reader is immediately situated in the journey.