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  Tyehimba Jess
Tyehimba Jess first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Jess was recognized as one of 2005's
Tyehimba Jess
eighteen debut poets to watch by Poets and Writer's magazine (That Glittering Possibility: Eighteen Debut Poets Who Made Their Mark in 2005.) Jess' leadbelly was voted one of three best poetry books of 2005 by Black Issues Book Review.

A Cave Canem and NYU alumni, Jess received a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004, and was a 2004-5 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He won the 2001 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award, an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship in Poetry for 2000 - 2001, and the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award. He was on the 2000 and 2001 Chicago Green Mill Slam teams. Jess also won the 1994 Sister Cities Poetry contest, and served as Chicagos Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

martha promise receives leadbelly, 1935



Tyehimba Jess
when your man comes home from prison,
when he comes back like the wound
and you are the stitch,
when he comes back with pennies in his pocket
and prayer fresh on his lips,
you got to wash him down first.

you got to have the wildweed and treebark boiled
and calmed, waiting for his skin like a shining baptism
back into what he was before gun barrels and bars
chewed their claim in his hide and spit him
stumbling backwards into screaming sunlight.

you got to scrub loose the jailtime fingersmears
from ashy skin, lather down the cuffmarks
from ankle and wrist, rinse solitary's stench loose
from his hair, scrape curse and confession
from the welted and the smooth,
the hard and the soft,
the furrowed and the lax.

you got to hold tight that shadrach's face
between your palms, take crease and lid
and lip and brow and rinse slow with river water,
and when he opens his eyes
you tell him calm and sure
how a woman birthed him
back whole again.


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