“Poetry in Our Times: Protest and Pandemic” Conversation with Chantel Massey

Poetry in Our Times: Protest and Pandemic Curated by Matthew Graham This is not a time to be silent, especially for writers. If COVID-19 opened the door to a national…

Poetry in Our Times: Protest and Pandemic
Curated by Matthew Graham

This is not a time to be silent, especially for writers. If COVID-19 opened the door to a national awareness of long entrenched and unacknowledged social and racial indignities and injustices, the murder of George Floyd blew that door off its hinges. As State Poet Laureate, during the month of July, I’ll be posting poems by Indiana writers addressing many of the issues that have come to light in the last four months. I hope these poems will begin or continue important conversations we need to be having.

I’m continuing the series with Chantel Massey’s poem “Black Sheep (mule of the world)” from her collection, Bursting at the Seams. Ms. Massey offers a fresh and vital voice concerning family, spirituality and womanhood to our ongoing dialogue.

Here is what she has to say about her poem:

“It’s funny to reflect on this because I am not the same person I was when this book was written, but the message is still the same. My book, Bursting at the Seams, is separated into five parts about my coming into self in the Midwest and reflecting on my own understanding of the rest of the world around me. This poem can be found in part four of the book, which opens with a quote from Alice Walker that reads, “How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mother’s names.” Although family is a microcosm of the world, literature by Black women writers was my lifeline to the outside world. I am the daughter of my mother, but I also believe myself to be the daughter of Gabrielle Patterson-Fisher, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovani, Octavia Butler and many more. So much of what I do and who I am is because of them. “Black Sheep” was written in the spirit of these women as an ode to Black women before and after me, to the Black women who walked during the movement, for the missing Black girls and for every Black girl who will ever hear this poem. This poem is a radical declaration that Black women are human, complex in our lived experience, lovable, powerful, tender, strong and holy—worthy of recognition, worthy to be seen, worthy of protection and worthy of deep healing. And, I will always choose to recognize us and stand in that declaration.”

Black Sheep (mule of the world)
By Chantel Massey

We have been
Both the audience
And the performer

Both the mess
And the masterpiece


Not a punching bag
Or quixotic sick fantasy

Instead we are queens
Erudite of many things
We create
We are ancient Kemet
Giving birth to kings and diamonds
With spirits that spring like March
And so we will fight for them
The way Israelites fought Pharaoh
We are Moses

We are the moment Nina Simone first touched a piano
We are Maya Angelou’s first class in Ghana
We are Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping”
Wine sipping

After a long day

Of being nectar and ambrosia

Woman is infinite

Woman is wisdom

We are the hopes of people bursting out of
Ferguson riots
Igniting confusion across continents

We are the hump in America’s right eyebrow
Leaving them filled
With the curiosity of 1st grade classrooms
Asking how can we be
The first supernova

“It’s simple,”
I tell them:
We are a myriad of generations
Dancing on the rings of Saturn
One century at a time

Stardust landing on mysterious planes
Sparking brains
And brightening hearts of
Your spirit’s past life

We are made up of galaxies

We are the revolution

Clothed in defiance
Yet undefined
Bloody knuckles from
Shattering glass ceilings
And two-way mirrors


We not just any kind of woman

We ain’t just any kind of woman

We are the kind in a bible and on the pole
Yet undefined

And that’s ok

Because we,
we are made
in the image of God, too:

We are the fire cracker
lit the wrong way
On the fourth of July
So oohh and aahh at our
Bursting colors and flames
Cinders flying in
Unpredictable directions
Leaving old versions of self behind
Forever evolving


We are Love
We are life

We are both the mess and the masterpiece
I put that line in here twice for a reason
Every day as I learn what it means to be a woman
From my mother, my sisters, and all women around me

I learn
With faith like a mustard seed
There is nothing we cannot do

We are the eye of the hurricane
Even as we stand face to face with disaster,

We are still the destruction

We are black sheep.


Chantel Massey (she/her) is a Midwest poet, teaching artist, educator and avid Anime lover based in Indiana. She is a 2019 Winter Tangerine participant, 2019 Open Mouth Poetry resident alum and 2019 Best of Net Award nominee. She is the author of Bursting at the Seams (VK Press, 2018). Massey is the founder of a poetry workshop series, UnLearn, which serves and inspires writers through a Black classic and contemporary literature- and art-centered curriculum. Her work is forthcoming or appears in FAFCollective, The Indianapolis Review, Turnpike Magazine and other online and print publications. Her current focus is on human rights; social justice; witnessing; investigating the past, present and future; and confessional and emotional honesty about womanhood, identity, sexuality, spirituality and Blackness. As a performer, Massey has opened for co-founding member of Black Lives Matter, Elle Hearns; two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, Anis Mojgani; and has spoken, performed, hosted and led workshops for various organizations, universities and programs. Massey serves as board member and Community Outreach Committee member for youth poetry organization Word As Bond; editor for Sidepiece Magazine; and co-host for Tea’s Me Cafe with poet Eric Saunders every first Friday. By day, she is a special education teacher providing an equitable education to little humans, a student at Marian University and a 2020 Caliban Art Board Member.


Views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of Indiana Humanities.