Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” This week’s poem takes on the history of slavery and race in this country – a giant subject, for sure – and it does so at a slant. It does so by telling the story of the oryx.

What I love about this poem is its mix of registers and forms. Each section, each line asks us to leap with it into unexpected territory. There is great pain here, and humor, and a resilient spirit.

Samaa Abdurraqib spent most of her life in the Midwest among, she writes, “first buckeyes and then badgers.” She lives in Portland and travels all across the state for work and for pleasure.

Oryx in Crates

By Samaa Abdurraqib

I.

The first time I saw you

I stopped in my tracks.

you: glass eyed; stuffed; taxidermied

me: puzzled

You Do Not Belong Here.

The sign said “Do Not Touch.”

I obliged.

II.

The second time I saw you

I stopped in my tracks

Driving through the desert-mountain-desert of New Mexico.

The landscape was flat. sparse.

And there you were

loping

loping

you looked at me; I looked at you –

I stopped in my tracks and knew

You Do Not Belong Here

Like, you’re a plains animal, see?

From the Serengeti

Desert, maybe?

Kalahari

Like, do you know my friend, Rafiki?

III.

This is personal.

I spend approximately 95 hours a week wondering how I came to be here.

I trace my journey into whiter and whiter and whiter places.

IV.

FACT: Between 1969 & 1977, ninety-five oryx were released into White Sands, New Mexico.

FACT: There are now thousands of oryx in White Sands and the surrounding area.

FACT: Annual oryx hunts began in 1974. To this day, these hunts continue annually. Population control.

FACT: Between 1969 & 1977, ninety-five oryx were released into White Sands, New Mexico to increase hunting opportunities for game hunters in the area.

FACT: Most oryx are extinct or endangered in their native Africa.

V.

Resiliency is genetic

Resiliency is…We up in here

Resiliency is…Oh, you tried it

I only know part of your story

They run you down/hunt you down

every year

But you have no known predators here

You made babies

And look at your babies thrive & survive.

They tried to fence you in. Contain you

control through Red Lining

But you’re intelligent

You escaped

You made babies

And look at your babies thrive & survive.

VI.

I never forget

how I got here.

And look at how we thrive & survive.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Samaa Abdurraqib. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to www.pressherald.com/tag/deep-water.