Saturday, December 4, 2021

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers / Lost Letter #1: Phillis Wheatley, Boston, to Susannah Wheatley, Boston


Lost Letter #1: Phillis Wheatley, Boston, to Susannah Wheatley, Boston*

by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

January 18, 1764

Dear Mistress:

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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