Three Poems


an erasure of EB White’s “Once More to the Lake”

with apologies to students I made read this

when I didn’t hear what my students were saying.

because I insisted it was beautiful writing


1904… father rented… and took… and… rolled… in success

that lake… one month… placidity… the woods… old haunts

sweet outdoors… long shadows… cathedral

remote… primeval


the boy… was I… was my father…

silently… the dragonflies… came…

dislodging… years

exactly enchanted… lake

constant and trustworthy body

minnow with its… individual shadow

There had been no years


two-track road

… lay… in the sun

loosened… plantains… weeds

dry noon… steamed

heat and hunger and emptiness


waitresses… country girls been to the movies

seen… pretty girls with clean hair


indelible… fade proof… unshatterable

sweet… juniper… without end

the design… innocent and tranquil

flagpole and the American flag

floating… escaping

newcomers… common


to me… remembering… jollity and peace and goodness

farm… smell of pine

smiling farmer

father’s… authority


wrong… the sound… years moving

nervous… outboard… jarred

inboard… an ingredient of summer sleep

fluttered… purred

outboards… petulant… whined

my boy… single-handed mastery

the… old… heavy flywheel

you could have it eating out of your hand…

… cool nerve


endlessly… accumulated heat… swamp drift… rusty screens

steamboat that had a rounded stern like the lip of a Ubangi

moonlight… mandolin

doughnuts… fig newtons… Beeman’s gum… I…


thunderstorm… climax

darkening… premonitory

gods licking their chops

my groin felt the chill of death

Imam Jamil Abdullah Al Amin at Butner

At exit 186 on I-85, you may exit south

and drive through farmland

u-pick strawberries

tree stump removal

Cedar Creek Pottery

and wind up at Sandling Beach on Falls Lake,

or you can turn north toward Butner, NC,

small town home to institutions:

central regional hospital, a psychiatric facility

butner federal correctional center

butner federal medical center.

“The voice of Black Power,” H. Rap Brown

or Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin,

might have been whisked

in an armored vehicle

up the exit I take to swim,

but he would have been turned left.

I would have turned right

at the gas station with a sign for seed corn

and left at the next junction,

past the field with three gleaming horses

right at the barn and down 50

past the chickens for sale—

pet or meat—

and the unfriendly convenience store

which sells propane

Transferred from ADX Florence

supermax in Colorado,

where the Imam had been incarcerated

seven storeys below ground—

so close to the heart of the earth

so alone.

Seven years of sensory deprivation,

enough time for an infant

to be born, learn to walk,

and enter elementary school,

and more years than that.

I park where the shadows extend

to cover my car.

The water is brown

and cool on my feet

He languished on the far side

of the continent.

When he fell ill, our letters:

Stop execution by medical neglect

Two brown-skinned teenagers

stand to their shoulders

in water, arms around one another,

unaware of the pair of white

egrets gliding in tandem above.

At Butner, bone marrow revealed

smoldering myeloma

for this Imam whose words

were once fire—

Violence is American as Cherry Pie.

I put in my three back and forths,

an hour of walking and swimming

breathing in someone’s

pork smoldering on a grill,

passing the embracing teens

six times in all.

Sjogren’s syndrome:

severe pain

swelling of jaw and ankles

skin discoloration

broken teeth,

nearly evicting him from

his incarcerated body.

The three thwarted rivers

that are falls lake

permeate the soil of Butner

and finger its culpability.

He is the turn left and north to Butner

and I the turn right to the lake.

He will stay behind those walls

that foundation touched by the lake

until the authorities say otherwise.

I will go home and shower and make dinner

I go to the lake and swim unfettered.

He has been incarcerated at the law’s say so.

He will outlast them.

Walking with Ancestors

Julia Sangodare Roxanne Wallace films the story of formerly enslaved people as they prepare for their first camp meeting as free people

we enter the plantation

and park before a backdrop of trees

Julia Sangodare has summoned us

she can see each of us

can see us in the film which has not yet been shot

solitary white woman, I walk across the grass.

I wear gray thrift store skirt to my ankles

we will not talk about how hot it is, in this polyester skirt

summer Eno River Basin 2015

sitting in the unglazed window

15 year old Ida has emerged whole from bondage

and smiles down upon us

community making a way out of no way

an act of imagining then

as Sangodare dreams now

what traditions to carry into freedom

what traditions to leave behind

the people sing

take me to the water

take me to the water

Sangodare has named the girl in the window Ida,

for Ida B. Wells anti-lynching voice of fire

in this life— high school, PSAT’s—

the super heroes she draws day and night

at birth her mother gave her a revolutionary’s name

Assata daughter and sister

of women who dream and who smile in flames

people dance

the plantation— trees and hiding spots

and blackberry brambles

and weathered outbuildings—

once occupied

— that last word—

thirty thousand acres of river basin

trees shorn to afford an unobstructed

view of the quarters

now crept over by trees and brush

Julia Roxanne Sangodare Wallace.

past, present and future in a name

green gold blue gossamer dragonfly

spirit spirit black lake at night

the land acquired in 1776

— birth of a stolen nation

where once people and confederations and languages thrived—

plowed to receive tobacco and cereal grains,

worked to feed stock

nine hundred enslaved African people

nine hundred

lived here

after emancipation family members

post letters and handbills, searching for missing

husbands, wives mothers and fathers their children

like now

on topo map lacework of elevated crowns

and low points necklaced dense weave of brown

today Ida who is Assata

Kynita who loves Afiya who is Assata’s mother

Mayto who is Sangodare’s father Waylon in Sunday shirt

and the person who is Sangodare’s mother Anne

in full white skirt and hand sewn white blouse

her head wrapped in white

the lake fingers into the lacework

who knows the original configuration

on paper the lake water is unblemished pale green

lying in beds created by engineers

covering ancient trails

— shelving knowledge still there—

a drone captures a waterfall’s cascade

deep inside the weave

Alexis Pauline Gumbs firebrand who loves

Sangodare leaps into the clearing

body arched, feet high above the ground

exclamation points

Alexis Pauline Gumbs lands precisely as a damsel fly just so

i am a walk-on under a voice-over

a white woman in Quaker drab who stands

on the porch of the general store

she reads aloud to those seeking stolen family

my seconds below another’ voice pass quickly

the middle of a story which will continue

past Assata’s sixteenth birthday,

past her graduation from high school,

beyond her journey west to college

2018 courtroom it is that story again

the great seal of the State of North Carolina.

1775 draped female figures of Liberty and Plenty (white)

In the film: Harriett: Anne (Anthonette) Elix Wallace

mother of Sangodare

Courtroom B has its choreography

of white judge and mostly white lawyers,

mumbling as we watch

Mayto (the preacher): Rev. Waylon R. Wallace

the father of Sangodare

to set the court’s calendar, we listen to the judge’s vacation schedule

Hyacinth: Dannette Sharpley

mother of Baez and Mimi

the bailiff brings in Black defendants

cuffed, shackled, jump-suited

voice of grown Ida: Iya Osunfunke Omisade Burney-Scott

practitioner of contemporary Ifa

mother of Che and Taj

with its white liberty and white occupation

slavery occupied land to bring white plenty

slavery thought to steal liberty of

Ida of

Harriett of

Mayto of


courtrooms steal lives

Pauline: Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs

love evangelist and poet

loves and is loved by Sangodare

It is windy at Falls Lake

water in dark troughs

white capped crests

a heron works the sky

searching the depths

for life

people invent themselves

from day to day

and all the days going back to Africa

and all the days forward into a time

I can only ever imagine

Faith S. Holsaert has published fiction in journals since the 1980s and has begun to also publish poetry. She co-edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (University of Illinois). She received her M.F.A. from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. After many years in West Virginia, she now lives in Durham, NC with her partner Vicki Smith, with whom she shares eleven grandchildren. These three poems are part of Holsaert’s chapbook Falls Lake: Swimming in History which is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

Barzakh Mag