Lost Letter #1: Phillis Wheatley, Boston, to Susannah Wheatley, Boston*
by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
January 18, 1764
Odysseus sailed the ocean like me
and Nymphs held him in their arms.
They are ladies like my yaay.
[i will burn this letter in the hearth you are
watching me as i smile i am a good girl i am]
I shall practice my lessons for you
and Miss Mary, pretend Master Nathaniel
does not yank my hair and tell me,
he’ll take a razor and shave me bald.
For you, God will scrub my skin—
but when might I see my yaay? I cannot
recall how she would say bird or baby
or potato in that other place.
Yaay needs to see that my teeth grew in,
that I am alive after my long journey.
[yaay come for me please i shall be a good
girl i have forgotten how to be naughty]
Today snow comes down. Outside,
a soul has slipped and fallen on the ice.
That’s what that crying means.
Your servant and child,
* The word “yaay” here means “mother” in the Wolof language of Senegal and The Gambia of West Africa.
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