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Poetry Moment: Chet'la Sebree and 'Mistress of Hypermobility'

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Mistress of Hypermobility” by Chet’la Sebree.

Chet’la Sebree is the director of the Stadler Center for Poetry & the Literary Arts and an assistant professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She is the author of two award-winning books, most recently Field Study. Today’s poem comes from her prior collection, Mistress. In Mistress, Sebree reexamines Sally Hemings’ relationship with Thomas Jefferson to unpack the contemporary Black female experience in America.

Sebree’s poem, “Mistress of Hypermobility,” begins with a striking directive from the poem’s speaker. But to whom is this command being given? Is it to an intimate other who knows the details of the speaker’s desire to keep moving? Or is the poet talking to herself, defining herself through the need for continual motion? With forceful imagery, Sebree’s poem sweeps us across the globe, from tourist destinations to cities and towns closer to home. Along the way, Sebree artfully draws our attention to language and its ability to name and misname. She highlights the “accents” and “continents” she, and her foremothers like Hemings, have had to traverse without “falling between” them.


Mistress of Hypermobility

Stuff me in a suitcase and take me anywhere.
The sky is the vehicle I prefer, but you know
I love the water

          from the sulfur stink of Rotoruan hot springs
          to the frightening blue of the To Sua.

Move me from metropolis to small town places
where people know they know my face,
but no one can pronounce my name.

I’ll speak a mesh lingue romantiche anywhere
someone will try to understand me,
as long as I can admit

         I’m always moments away
         from falling between continents,

that I’m fearful of the ways I wear my hair,
my Philadelphia accent.

That was “Mistress of Hypermobility” by Chet’la Sebree.
Thanks for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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