Kara Walker painting An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters
Kara Walker

Ghosts in Schools

With lines from In the Wake, by Christina Sharpe


… a human body would not make it
           to the seafloor intact


               NO LOITERING  
               IN THE WATER

They whisper like fish. The police  
                           in schools like fish

the atoms of the people who were thrown overboard—


Sometimes my lungs feel like stones  
in the hypnagogic hour—that watery room  
between wakefulness & sleep


The faint formation of land in the distance—

that’s when horror struck

in the mind of the African


abovedeck—the moment just before

our African       became               -American


… out there in the ocean even today.
Hidden in the language

in the pelagic tunnels. Narrow corridor  
           of attention. Fish whisper


They avoid our shadows  
like fish. Ghosts in schools  
like fish. Police in schools—

             NO LOITERING  
            IN OUR HISTORY

“. . . we talk like fossils  
                            in this country . . .”


The amount of time it takes  
for a substance to enter  
the ocean and then leave  
the ocean is called residence


those who took the ocean

as their home, murmurous

as my footsteps


Standing midnight at the Atlantic harbor  
I hear the fishermen  
yelling to one another out on the water

where they’ve just noticed                     the sea beginning to part

a corridor of murdered         Africans     million-ghost-marching

to Wall Street


We were always white folks’ white whale.

Ain’t that some shit?

Next: Read Anna Deavere Smith on being one of the first Black students at a small women’s college.