Susquehanna Baptism, 1954

“. . . Tugged coal barges skim its shivering skin.”

Marian Dornell has written a superb chapbook called Unicorn in Captivity exploring the legacy of race in America.  This poem spoke to me when she gave a reading recently.  You can learn more about Marian and her writing here.


Tucked in a troublesome valley a brown-skinned girl
sits on her front steps. Above her the cross from St. Patrick’s blots
out the sun. To the east, the Capitol dome frustrates
her vision. She walks a few streets over to the river,
which flows toward a larger thing, resigned.
It surrenders to the demands of business as usual. Tugged
coal barges skim its shivering skin.
On river’s bank, this brown-skinned girl
faces the western shore that bars
her kind, where men with anthracite hearts
guard their women and children
from the dark. The brown-skinned girl
scribbles wishes she tosses
into the water, scraps of dreams
drowned like unwanted puppies.
At dusk debutantes drift
by on a flotilla of party boats, skipping jeweled
stones of light to taunt
the brown-skinned girl.
And river flows to a larger thing, resigned.
The girl dives into the water and swims
to an island for a closer look at life
on the far shore. Bridges span
the river, portals that could carry her over,
but she sees even then
a better life than those prisons
of industry with grinning jockeys on their lawns.
So she weaves herself a raft
of new dreams and floats
to her own distant shore
moving toward a larger thing.

– Marian Dornell
From Unicorn in Captivity
  published by Finishing Line Press

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