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My People

by Charif Shanahan

I have longed to say My people
Not because I was born

Of two peoples, of blue
Tiled walls and strip malls.

Not because I don’t know
Where I belong, or

With whom, or worse
“Who I am”

As onlookers have
In their pity proclaimed,

The lovers, too,
After they’ve exited

My body which they felt
Emboldened to name. I

Have wanted to say My people
And to be clear

To all people, to any you
Imagined by the mind

Of an embodied you
That was also first imagined.

I am interested in repair
Without shame. I am

Interested in restitution
With anger. I am

Interested in anger
As love, in having

Anyone who hears the phrase
See it vanish into the edge

Of what they know, to know
How far I mean it to reach—

My people
As redundancy, as symbol

Of the first truth,
Immutable, almost

Banal in its assertion:

If you are on this earth,
You are of this earth.

Charif Shanahan is a poet, essayist, and translator. His first collection, Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, was the recipient of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award. Shanahan’s poems appear in American Poetry Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, PBS NewsHour, POETRY, and The Yale Review, among other journals. His second collection, Trace Evidence, is forthcoming from Tin House in 2023.