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Burial Grounds: a poem by JoAnne McFarland & review

Burial Grounds: a poem by JoAnne McFarland & review

Burial Grounds by JoAnne McFarland


In a valley a woman unearths a 40,000 year old bead.
She palpates the pitted surface with her fingers,
squinting through its tiny hole.

The world before her — blue, green — gold.
Beneath her feet, the compact gritty matter
upon which an ancient people gathered.

Long ago, in the legendless universe before this bead,
danger was more magnificent than art.

She pauses, looks toward the horizon, then squats
to search for the tool that formed the opening.


Sometimes she finds a leg bone;
sometimes part of a pelvis;
sometimes an entire torso,
every rib preserved.

The draw to ruin is strong in her.
She loves parts — stories.

She unearths a skull, holds it high.
Within her, breath expands,
and the cavities of the eyes fill.


Multitudes stream across borders.

Through an open window, ripples of anger
are like the skin of an onion, easily ignored,
hardly worth the trouble of crushing.

She whispers in my ear — earth is the only anchor

Halfway around the globe, a storm, masturbating
to its own incantation, pulls into it — wood, stone, steel —
skin, bone, hair.


What a perfect summation of the realities of history making.  Lately, I have been engulfing myself with world history, thirsty for knowledge.  I was dying to know why I hated history so much in school.  I realized that it wasn’t about me… or anyone like me for that matter… not in a away that made sense of my world.

I want to first refute the assumption that as a black woman, I believe I should mostly learn about black his/herstory.  This is not that.  This is a demand for knowledge about people, from the mouths and thoughts of people, not European imperialist Christians.

I specifically name the Christian church because I am talking about the way we teach history here in America.   This is not about placing blame on Christ, but placing blame on people who used this religiously powerful structure to colonize native communities around the world, burning our history.  Accountability for all of us is at least a part of moving forward.

This poem is about telling the truth.  What happened, when and where.  We try to answer why as best we could.  Unfortunately as historians, America has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to hard facts, in an effort to refute any narrative that is seemingly anti-euro-heroic; and it’s deceitful.  (see post: Finding Home)  As an educator, I make sure to keep this principle at the very core of interdisciplinary study.  It is absolutely necessary for innerstanding.

There is life in the ground and it’s more than mushrooms.  We must feel our memories.  That is why we sing, dance, write, eat and protect who we are.  The person who holds the tool to the ground is very important.  We must watch them with a keen eye.

This poem is a reminder for us all to do as Inanna once did, and keep our ears to the Great Below.

Wisdom lies beneath.

“What you know is who you are, who are you?
Do you know who you are in the world? What is your world view?
What do you go through?, what has your life showed you?
What are you learnin in this so called life?
Do you have principle or do you blow with the wind
Do you wanna be free but don’t know where to begin
Do you know your enemy from your friend, even you can
It’s deep in this scannin the system that keepin us here
Will we survive, do you believe, are we afraid
Would you rather have control of your life, or be a slave
Show me a sign, a pig ain’t no homey of mine
They own me what’s mine, I show you if you loan me your nine
I’m only concerned for tables to turn
When the people learn the truth about the system, the cities will burn
And I stand firm, like Chaka Zulu, these crackers can’t stop you
Who you?

[Stephen Marley]
I’m Crazy, Dem Crazy
Just those crazy boys, right and tough”

To read more from JoAnne McFarland visit


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