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Clay People

by Jana Ross

Grand Prize Winner of the African Diaspora Award

We are clay people who bake under the sun When the brown glistens, and All I can see is your beautiful darkness I forgot how brittle and hard we be We, who began as a soft mould, As life from the bottom of rivers, Of water, the force of shape and change, But now, no longer do you let softness in For the elements set and stiffened arms, Fingers, backs, and minds, too Until the rinds of the heart met rigor mortis, And skin withered to tough leather, And touch became alien. In these moments of hardness Between us family I remember these memories we relive, When our ancestors had to lose trust And instead gain caverns, boulder shells, and Pluck for their hearts immovable stones Submerged in an endless ocean, They had to look for sunlight five thousand meters beneath the surface Beneath the surface

Our mothers and fathers hid joy and panic And instead emerged covered in the sand of the ocean floor But their mud covering also hid what was only meant for special eyes A beautiful coral held like bouquets A calling to the sea I know now is a gift from them to me I remember, too, the quiet smiles that pass through your eyes The ones I hear in your laugh And the watery tears slipping to the corners of your lips, Letting slide a smile oceans wide In those gentle moments, When we hold each other and that is all we need, I remind you softly to think of those before and next, Us, And ask for you to let go of these stone walls Let dissolve this tough, old clay of armor To wash gently away your pain, Hold firmly for we are each other’s protectors


Literary scholar Jana Ross has always kept diaries and journals as a child. As a young girl, she exchanged poetry journals with her best friend. The intimacy of community remains one of her most cherished aspects of poetry and sharing stories.

Kinsman Quarterly reached out to Ross, the grand prize winner of the first annual African Diaspora Award, to find out what inspires her heartfelt poetry.

“Of course, my personal life experiences, from the tumult of emotions I try to sort out to just everyday thoughts, visuals, and interactions,” Ross shares. “I am inspired by the attempt to capture feelings through visual imagery, the collapse of grammar and form, and listening to the story my writing wants to tell (even when it may not align with what I initially thought I wanted).”

Artists like Gwendolyn Brooks, Virginia Woolf, FKA Twigs, La Dispute are among those who inspire Ross’s work. But she also credits friends and family members. In particular, her auntie, Sharon Bridgforth, a writer that she recommends checking out, inspires her the most.

Ross hopes to one day publish a book of her own and connect with other writers. She also intends to explore writing lengthier poems and various poetry forms. Her poetry collection, “Me and My Hair”, made a striking impact on the contest judge and poet Akin Jeje, who found “Clay People” to be his favorite in the top poems among the poetry of 30 nations.

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