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Tending to the Garden: Meilani Clay

plant lessons

chlorophyll cells catch sunlight in aventurine configurations

work furiously away from my eyes to push forth new leaves

curled tight as newborn fists

then, to do nothing

or rather then, to rest

life cycles channel through jade veins

hydrating        respirating        shedding

preparing for the next batch of energy

necessary to push buds through soil

extend tendrils outward to grasp trellis

stretch open a palm-sized frond to catch

even more of the sun’s benevolence

plants teach me everything i need to know

about how sometimes what is no longer serving you

will wilt and yellow before your eyes

demanding to be discarded

about how sometimes what is killing you

lies beneath the surface

roots rotting in the swampy soil of lost memories

plants teach me there are times

to be a dozen mighty fists unfurling at once

and times to maintain the growth

that has gotten me this far

i am the bay

its rolling hillsides and lush gardens

its grit and its genius

i am grown from people

rooted here with southern soil

y’all and hella mixed in my vocabulary

like the hunger for pot likker and pupusas in my belly

i am six different cuisines in a day

another three to hold you over at night

i am languages within languages

entire lineages intertwining on east 14th

i am girls too young to know the embrace of age’s wisdom

dumped at the ends of roads

discarded before the life they’ve lived even lines their faces

i am the bay

its panthers and its poetry

its diamonds glittering on bart trains

hand out for empathy in the form of spare change

i am an accent that can’t quite be placed

a culture distinct in its contradictions

i am hustle and hippie

crystals and hennessy

a bass line booming down a block

echoing my people back to themselves

Meilani Clay

Meilani Clay is a writer, mama, and educator from Oakland, CA. Her work has appeared in Nomadic Press’s Patrice Lumumba: An Anthology of Writers on Black Liberation and online literary journal The Ana. Her first poetry collection, and the creek don’t rise, was the winner of the 2021 Michael Rubin Book Award from San Francisco State University’s Fourteen Hills Press. A graduate of Howard University, the University of San Francisco’s Urban Education and Social Justice program, and a current MFA Poetry candidate at SFSU, Meilani aspires to be in school forever, to bridge worlds with her words, and to one day build forts out of books written by Black folks.

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