Two poems by Atena Danner






These poems are part of a special section of the Mid-Atlantic Review, Celebrating Black History, and selected by editors Khadijah Ali-Coleman, Carolivia Herron, and Rebecca Bishophall. To learn more about this series read a blog post on the Day Eight website here.

Roberta Nettles, 1863 – Unknown, Letter to My Eldest Ancestor

by Atena Danner

Born amid dominion’s Deconstruction
Roberta saw whites fight Reconstruction

White children underwent rites of induction
“Teach‘em young, in light of Reconstruction.”

Did she breathe the air of occupation,
Her breath a “right” under Reconstruction?

For five years soldiers stirred up bad blood
Rebuke in the guise of Reconstruction.

Too soon, the Bureau pulled out of commission
Blacks bore the weight of Reconstruction.

They burned a Black school in Milan, TENN.
Our family seat since Reconstruction.

Did you celebrate your wedding day with joy,
Tennessee alight with immolation?

(One century later my own parents wed:
Chicago by way of the Great Migration)

When both of your parents died that same year,
Could you fall apart without disruption?

(When my father passed in 1998;
I crawled along the veil of generations.)

Birdie, your roots grew deep and distant
Bless all your flowers beyond Reconstruction.

Letter to My Eldest Ancestor

by Atena Danner

Evanston, I.L. 60201, August 1, 2021
Mrs. Dicey (Hawkins) Foree Ratliff
Jefferson, K.Y.
Madison, Hancock and Clay

Dear Madam,

I pray this letter finds your spirit well. After much searching, I have discovered you
to be my most senior relation.
It is a joy to know your name! And yet, I still must
ask your name. White men wrote the map that led me to you.
I know that you worked many years in the Foree house,
And the Hawkins household, too.
What would it please you to be called now that you may choose?

I live in a town near Chicago, working as a teacher.
My husband Christopher and I have been married five years
we own a little house and garden.
I have two children – Steven my star, and Duncan my warrior.
Eager and smart about their books and games,
they are sweetness from a bitter time of life.
I have promised to pass along to them
our legacy: their inheritance is your sacred memory.

I am so grateful to make your acquaintance!
There is an infinity to ask and tell
Forgive my anxiety and not knowing where
to begin. I would be grateful to learn of your life in Kentucky since
the news of slavery’s end.

I would be pleased to meet you in Louisville, at the Eastern Cemetery
Of course we will bring food and libation.
I pray that you will grant our family a blessing.

I am sincerely and gratefully yours,
Mrs. Atena Danner (White)

Atena O. Danner is a cultural worker who imagines Black liberation, engaged in boundless curiosity. Her poems range from kitchen-table specificity to expansive relatability, covering topics including neurodiversity, human connection, and collective liberation. Atena is grateful to have work published online, in ‘understory quarterly’ and Raising Mothers Online, and recently in ‘Fwd: Museums [Redacted].’ She also has work published in anthologies such as Shelter in This Place: Reflections on 2020 and Struggle, Elevate, Celebrate: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, and her own book of poetry, Incantations for Rest: Poems, Meditations & Other Magic. She is a Roots. Wounds. Words. Fellow, and Anaphora Writers Residency Fellow, an alum of the Hurston/Wright Writers Week, and has been a featured reader for The Guild Complex Presents Exhibit B series, Chicago Poetry Center’s Poetry on the Green, and the annual Brooks Day celebration in Chicago. Atena is a founding member of Lifted Voices organizing collective and collaborates as a member of Surviving the Mic, a collective of survivors that hold affirming creative space for survivors of sexual violence. In their home north of Chicago, near the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires and of the Menominee, Miami and Ho-Chunk nations, Atena lives with her partner, pets and 2 free Black children. Her first poetry collection, ‘Incantations for Rest’ was released in 2022 and was awarded a Nautilus Silver Award for poetry in 2023.

Featured image in this post is: “An arrangement of vegetables that could be grown in a home garden in 1878”, Lithographic & Chromo Co. of Rochester, N.Y., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bourgeon’s mission, through our online publication and community initiatives, is twofold: to increase participation in the arts and to improve access to the arts. Bourgeon is a project of the not-for-profit Day Eight.
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