Read the Poem ‘Navel’ by Robin Coste Lewis

2 minute read

Lewis is the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. She is the author of Voyage of the Sable Venus, the winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry. A Cave Canem graduate, she is a Ford Foundation Art of Change fellow, and a Writer in Residence at the University of Southern California.

We crawled out of her navel
one by one, then waited
until we were all here.

That lucid moment when
the last wet child learned to stand,
we began walking.

We walked slowly.
We took some time.
We took more than that.

When we began to grow
hungry, some offered to turn
themselves into animals.

Smiling, they said, Here, eat me.
Others turned into water, rivers, trees.
Some turned themselves to dirt

so we could walk a path. We crept
toward the edges, clawed and crawled to the top
of the world, and there we clung.

Instead of a mouth, a woman
spoke through a vibrant yellow
bill. Sometimes we visited the man
on the moon. Sometimes he let us
inside his house. Sometimes
his transparent hollow wife would dance.

Later, when people asked us,
Where did you come from?
We could only answer water.

A whole language comprised
of just one word. We walked
onto the water. We built houses

on the water. We had babies
on the water. We sewed clothes
made of water with needles made of ice.

The night so constant
changed us. The planets
taught us a vocabulary

without any alphabet.
The trees began to walk.
At night, the ocean glowed

green from underneath.
Our roofs were made of whale
ribs, our lamps were stone

that burned clear oil. And now
I’ve turned my face into this page
so we could sit here together again.

See the 2019 Optimists issue, guest-edited by Ava DuVernay.

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