“The Deed Index Before 1963”

My fingers scan the cursive names
for a Barr, for a Bartell, for a Jacobs,
for any other names of us folk.
The pages smell like dust

as I try to trace the lineage
of the lands, see the names
of the hands that held it.
But I find none until 1963.

How these books are always
in the basement. Maybe
because we all got to start
at the bottom before our feet

can find the sure ground beneath us.
Black bodies looked for a form,
and the soil took on their melanin.
They were careful in its cultivation.

Black until it’s almost purple, Bluefield
dirt has known tomatoes and squash,
has been cuddled underneath the fingernails
of former squatters, sharecroppers, and farmers.

This was life beyond the ledgers of men.
This was where life is lived on the whims
of a prayer that is uttered and stuck
in the air. They had to start at the bottom.

No one ever gives you anything in
this here world, they say. You got
to start somewhere.