DEAR SHEILA ABDAS SALAAM by Katerina Canyon

You already felt the color of the skin

that shaped your name

preface your obituary.


You ended your claim.

The body rested lifeless on the edges of Harlem.


Hudson River is a necropolis.


Did you think of your childhood

as a poor black girl from D.C.,


who was called a nigger, as you skipped

home from school with ashy knees


and strands of hair that escaped


from tight ponytails during

bouts of hopscotch and double-dutch,

as you jumped into the water?


Did you picture the girls

who teased you

for being more smart than pretty?


What did people say to you as a woman?

you never earned it?

you cheated through affirmative action?


men don't like it when you're too smart?


How many times were you called an inspiration

only to wash it off in a bath of inadequacy?


It was likely one-word

slammed down like a gavel

which ended it.


Maybe after a woman at Fairway

cut her eyes at you,

a word that hit your head

and split your skull.


Did you think of what you've done

to the pain laced through your robes

in gay rights


muslim bans

and assaults against women?


So many will drown with you,


black chokes under blue hands

without order.


Your obituary:

first black woman who

unshakable voice for the poor

Columbia graduate.


Arkansas wants to execute eight men

before their drugs expire,


dozens arrested at Trump Tower,


checking boxes

one case

after another

with more to come.


How did you handle the ability to change

nothing and everything

at the same time,


standing at the causeway


watching the cars pass you by,


people pushing past you

while you squinted out your last ear


streaked sunset across the Hudson?


Why didn't you give it

another day?