Holly Bass


Langston Hughes Tribute IssueVolume 12:1, Winter 2011


I am indigo
the color of soul

a black slave
dying white cotton
dark blue

a sea island
full of slave women
bearing new slaves
unaware of emancipation’s

hands stained
with so much indigo
blood seeps black first
pine tar deep
before I can see
it is as red
as everybody else’s

indigo stains the teeth
when you sink them,
ivory, into the
poisoned plum of me

the shroud of my sadness is such
that even black spirituals
sung in backwater churches
cannot rescue me
from my desolation

I’m so blue
the black sea
borrows its hue from me

so blue
sapphires merely emulate
my absence

there are no words for this
in my poor slave’s English

I am
an open wound in an inconspicuous place
a comfortable agreement with death

I am

a slave dance
after a long day of work

I am

the broken neck of a dreamer
the opposite of an orgasm

gatemouth brown cannot utter
my essence
taj mahal cannot wail
my presence
robert johnson came close—
touched his fingers to the surface
of my shimmering waters,
then played ghost

said he’d rather deal
with the spirit world
than exist forever
in my netherworld—
I couldn’t blame him

this blue is the birthplace of blackness
there is no deeper beginning
i live in sadness
i live in sadness
i live in sadness
i live in sadness


Holly Bass is a multidisciplinary performance and visual artist, writer and director. A Cave Canem fellow, she has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies, including Role Call, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC and The Ringing Ear, Black Poets Lean South. She studied modern dance (under Viola Farber) and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College before earning her Master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has received numerous grants from the DC Arts Commission and is a 2019 Red Bull Detroit artist-in-residence, a 2019 Dance/USA Artist Fellow and a 2019 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. A gifted and dedicated teaching artist, for four years she directed a year-round creative writing and performance program for adjudicated youth in DC’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services as well as facilitating workshops nationally and internationally. She is currently the national director for Turnaround Arts at the Kennedy Center, a program which uses the arts strategically to transform schools working to solve deep racial and economic inequities. To read more by this author: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2009 Introduction, It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2009 Audio Issue, Vol. 9:4, Fall 2008 Five Poems, Vol. 3:2, Spring 2002