'wait on the chicken to know he gone and it take a while'

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When historical figures become the subjects of poetry, there is a rich opportunity for transporting us into the emotional world of such people through the beauty of the imagination. The facts of Anarcha Westcott’s difficult story can be found online, but Dominique Christina’s persona poem, 'How Anarcha Sees His Work', enriches our understanding of the brutish work of the 19th century South Carolina physician, J  Marion Sims, and in so doing, the poet imbues Anarcha’s life with a quality of human dignity in powerful ways.



by Dominique Christina

i seen a chicken get his head

cut off and bein a chicken

he dumb and don’t know he

dead so he floppin and still running the yard

still! no head at all blood like bread crumbs

runnin runnin and folk laugh and

wait on the chicken to know he gone and it

take a while


i mean it aint always quick or easy

for a dead thing to know it’s a dead thing

so its squawkin and flappin

like it still got life and ain’t no life there

at all and that is what it’s like


doctor/massa tickled

at the blood and the squawkin

waitin on me to know i’m a dead thing

and me, dumb wit stayin.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem from Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems, copyright © 2018 Dominique Christina. Reprinted with special permission from Beacon Press. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher.  Introduction copyright ©2021 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska

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