Poem: New Year’s Eve

I’d never heard of the racial-dot map, another iteration of this country’s obsession with category. As if Crispus Attucks, Black and Native American, didn’t become part of this nation when he took the first bullet in that revolution. Maps that convince you that we are in a sea of anything but too much suffering are only worthwhile if they inspire a poem. Tomás Q. Morín gives us one, and a question: “What story do the dots tell you/about freedom and its promises?” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

New Year’s Eve

By Tomás Q. Morín

The Racial Dot Map of America
says green dots are blacks, blue are whites,

orange are Latinos, red are Asians, and brown
are Native Americans and everyone else.

If this is what passes for hope
then what are the green dots

between my tulips and the sea?
Maybe somewhere green dots still mean grass.

In America blue dots are an ocean
full of fish with no gills. I need to believe I can breathe

underwater. When you see your reflection in this map,
what story do the dots tell you

about freedom and its promises?
When I look at garland, I now see

the Transcontinental Railroad and the Middle Passage
wrapped around our plastic tree.

The year is late. Tonight the sky will
pop with color and gunpowder. Drums

pound in the distance. The only color unassigned
on the map is white. No people live

where the map goes white.
White is prairie, forest, mountain,

river, and desert. White is where the coyote growls
when we decorate the night sky. White is

where the brush waits for a spark
to burn it all new.

Illustration by R.O. Blechman

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Tomás Q. Morín is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection “Machete” (Knopf, October 2021). He teaches at Rice University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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