Poetry Moment: 'Black Woman Selling Her Home in America' by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.
This episode’s poem is “Black Woman Selling Her Home in America” by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and her family immigrated to the United States from Liberia during the Liberian Civil War. She is the author of six critically acclaimed collections of poetry, including Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, When the Wanderers Come Home, and Where the Road Turns. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Prairie Schooner, the New York Times Magazine, and Harvard Review, among others. Her poems have been translated into several languages, and her awards include the 2023 Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, the Edward Stanley Poetry Prize, the Crab Orchard Award, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry Magazine. Since 2003, Jabbeh Wesley has lived in Pennsylvania, where she is a Professor of English at Penn State Altoona.
What does it mean to put down roots, to find a home and to make that home one’s own? How do race and culture change the idea of a home, including the ability to buy or sell a home? For many of us, leaving a home carries strong emotions because the material world is always woven with memories, with spirits, with our very being.
Black Woman Selling Her Home in America
After the show, I can reenter my home
and take myself back.
From room to room, I examine my home
to see if the possible buyers
did not take a piece of shredded
carpet with them, did not pull down a window blind,
and yes, the television is still standing.
But through the box walls, I feel their fingernails
rising out of the corners of my rooms,
their presence, these strangers, these spies,
these unknown people who have walked
through my home,
have touched my private places in my home,
done this abominable thing of touring
my bedroom, my sleeping place, where at night
I revisit my ancestors
over and over. My bedroom, where I can steal
away at night and meet
my mother in the other world.
In my country, you do not sell your home.
You do not sell your home to strangers.
You do not move away so others can possess
your possessions. You plant feet
and umbilical cords deep. I have been
selling my home for a year now.
I have been selling myself for years now,
and my possible buyers do not seem to see
the house they cannot see.
Sometimes I wish my home was not as black
as me, that the skin
of my aluminum sidings were not gray
or black like me. After the show,
I come back home, walking like a broken
woman. I walk in fearfully,
letting myself into my own home
in small particles of dust. I walk in like
you walk into a haunted house,
holding onto foot and arm. Sometimes, I can
see their large eyes, these buyers, who
walk in with ugly coats, who come in,
their prying eyes, afraid something may spring
at them when they finally move into my home.
That was “Black Woman Selling Her Home in America” by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley.
Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at WPSU.org/poetrymoment.
Music by Eric Ian Farmer.