black girl recovers water goddess for her future daughter

Dynas Johnson

                                         born and raised to cry holy towards the cross
my tongue has loosened and trembled magic while iʼve danced
across the threshing floor       waiting to be saved. but recently my worship
has faded into a quiet anxiety. the scriptures used to soothe my worries
about post mortem justice but gave me no relief from the afflictions
that composed the refrain of my peopleʼs prayers. even as my tongue
uttered praise       something inside my chest swelled and burst open
like a grape between teeth. i grew up believing in we shall overcome someday
but as i passed between prayer circles with my black body          hands folded
over my questions         the pain seeped into my legs and held me from
dancing. these circles could not answer my questions on either side of
the veil: on one side    seemingly ever forgiving and patient even as our kin floated
down the river towards eternity          crossed between which methods are best
for liberation and which will achieve peace with as little of our children
eaten as possible. the other side                    quiet. their silence i feel in my tongue
when it tries to curl around old prayers         a silence like a forest fire
that eats you when you try to hide.


i wonder who we used to worship before we were brought here.
i admit to a deep burning kind of pain when i think on all the history
we have in this country. i celebrate our survival          praise the fathers
and mothers who bought their freedom to buy their children back.
the aunts who braided back the hair under scarves for safe keeping.
the cousins who called everyone cousin the uncles who were lynched
for protecting their nieces from violation the grandfather who outlived
the beatings with a score on his back for proof        the grandmother
of all the children and even their parents        the queen mother who nursed
our wounds closed even as they reopened the next day of toil.

i wonder what names were folded between our lips before we were taught
to find salvation elsewhere. i wonder if our prayers were heard but we
were visualizing the wrong face. i wonder if Godʼs fragmented across different
bodies and we only have one of them      or if weʼve been calling God by
the wrong name this whole time. most of all i wonder if we can reach back
to a place where we knew God as our own where God wasnʼt white and
distant. where God


i have a theory that inside us there is one called the water goddess. iʼm aware
of how sacrilege this will be if my father ever finds this poem. he will read this

and mourn over my apparent refusal of Christ      claim these feelings as sin
or some ill-conceived journey backwards. but i believe in what will help us survive
what will move us past surviving. i want legends beyond our ciphering messages
of escape i want more than our captivity and escaping i want more for my children
than what the narrative has given us. our people are in the process of recovering
so many lost stories. the ancestors are reaching out to us and i want to hold them.
the scriptures i grew up reading taught me about returning to a place of connection
with God a connection originally severed by that first sin but where did our people sin
to have been so severed and scarred? the scriptures tell of mending a connection
between holy Father and servant through Christ but not of lost languages lost traditions
lost children lost mothers and fathers brothers sisters friends beloveds        selves.
God wonʼt judge us for wanting to recover what was lost. i want to believe
that God will understand us traveling elsewhere in search of our abandoned selves.
maybe we wonʼt have to leave. maybe we just have to really see who God is.
maybe weʼve been calling Them out of Their name this whole time.


before we called God what we call Him now              He was probably They
Part of Them was also She        They could be Singular or Plural                   He was not white.


i imagine that one of Godʼs faces is a woman. i imagine Her with cayenne skin
and hair like mine. i imagine Her crossing the water with us while we were taken
into bondage. i imagine Her mourning the souls lost to Her waves     carrying
their voices back home. i imagine Her crying with the mothers whose children
were snatched from their arms. i imagine Her crossing over the threshold of this land
and breaking on impact. i imagine Her shards reanimating and twirling above our
open palms like giant fireflies. i imagine Her wanting to go home but forgetting
which one and where. i imagine Her shedding blood and the blood becoming
the peaches we grow inside ourselves. i imagine us forgetting Her name because
we stopped recognizing Her magic in our skin. i imagine Her shards like peach pits
nestled inside of us        especially inside our women whose losses
would be washed away by someone elseʼs rendition of history. i imagine Her as the strength
and sadness and joy passed from calloused hand to calloused hand
grandmother to mother to daughter to mine. i imagine her disappearance from our tongues
was only temporary. She is with us. She is inside us. We are Hers and She is ours.

when i close my eyes     i can see Her. this brings me a peace my tongue cannot utter.
one day i will tell my children of Her and they will already have met Her.

A recent graduate from Temple University, Dynas Johnson was the vice president and an editor for SONKU, a university-founded organization for BIPOC creatives. She has poems published in Sooth Swarm Journal, Rogue Agent, Vagabond City Lit, Memoir Mixtapes, and others. Find her at or on Twitter @Dynasthepoet.