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Birthday Poem

By Azia Armstead

“You may rejoice, I must mourn”

—Frederick Douglass

We wait for the show to begin in an open field on a blazing summer night.
Fireworks are most lucent in the blackness of a sky with no sun which
makes me think of blackness as a metaphor, how colors shine brightest
when contrasted against it. Burning hues explode above our heads then sizzle
to nothingness, beautiful and short-lived as a life with an untimely end.
A series of thunderous booms jolt the chest, almost hard enough to break the body
into a ghost. There’s a violence to this magic. It leaves a smoke that doesn’t clear
until we do. They celebrate their fathers, their nation and its wildness and I don’t
know what I have to do with any of it, except I know the short distance between joy
and defeat and that nothing you love ever belongs to you. Sometimes, I wish I had
been born on some other day. In the sweltering summer of ‘96, my mother welcomes
me, her unamerican girl, which makes me think of the irony in such a birth. Black
baby’s cry drowned by an anthem. America is a strange land in which I have no name,
a country with which I share a birthday despite the immeasurable distance between us. 1




This poem borrows language from Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”



Listen as Azia Armstead reads "Birthday Poem."

Added: Friday, June 26, 2020  /  Used with permission.
Azia Armstead

Azia Armstead is from Richmond, Virginia. She received a BA in English from Virginia Commonwealth University. Azia has received a fellowship from The Watering Hole and an award from the Arts Club of Washington for poetry. She was selected as a finalist for the 2019 Furious Flower Poetry Prize. Azia has been a feature poet at Busboys and Poets. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Wus Good, Obsidian, and the Boston Review. She is an MFA candidate for poetry at New York University.

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