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bernard ferguson
winner of the 2019 peseroff poetry prize

How lucky to judge a poetry contest in which one of the submissions is Bernard Ferguson's "hearsay."  This  extraordinary poem  begins with a haircut but quickly morphs into something large and mythic, in which family folklore is interwoven with the history and folklore ("hearsay") of slavery itself. Painful yet not without hope, this poem not only looks back but finally, and most poignantly, looks forward as well.  I'm very happy to award the Peseroff Prize to Bernard Ferguson’s "hearsay."

-Lloyd Schwartz

after lining up my fade, cutting it clean & close to the scalp, my barber asked  

my father & my father’s father answered, ​yes​,​ put a road in ​& so he tipped 

my head & cradled its fruit in his palm as he hovered low & real close 

to my hairline, close enough to look at the angles of his work, like a fine 

mason as he etched a new path toward what lay behind my eyes, the gold  

beneath bone, the treasures that spin there like the rumors i’ve heard, whispers 

of how slaves wandered in the dark through crops while pressing fingers 

to their skulls, thumbing along, tracing the curves & alleys that lead to  

a field’s end & into freedom, the women who pulled the hair & braided it  

down the scalp as proof, & the slaves & other slaves who held the new map  

at the jaw, twisting the head like one would spin a globe. whispers, like this,  

of gold & rice weaved between locs, whispers of strategy, stories of royal blood  

in chains, of poison & riot, tales of rebellion spreading like a rumor, legends,  

folklore, & any proof of them tucked into the black feathers of that black feathered  

kingbird, hidden in its pelt before it took off & vanished behind the veil. still,  

i remain, & i once saw my sister stand in front of the vanity & section her hair 

in two, plaiting them into grapevines around her ears & down the shoulders,   

twisting like our grandmother taught her, the way she learned from someone   

who learned from someone else. on flatbush avenue, a woman, true, from Trinidad,   

starts at the front of my hairline, at its center, & moves slow so i can follow,  

a few locs in each palm, she crosses them, picking up new crop, crissing them  

to make a weave, moving out & down the canvas, the continent sprawled  

at my crown, ending her work at the cliff of my cranium, where the bone begins   

to descend, ending there & tying a knot so the hair can hang & fall free behind me   

like the past, & an arrow weaved & pointing outward at the top. ahead, forward.

Bernard (he/him) is a Bahamian immigrant poet, an MFA candidate at NYU, a Writers in the Public Schools fellow, and an Assistant Editor at Washington Square Review. He’s the winner of the 2019 Hurston/Wright College Writers Award, a winner of the 2019 92y Discovery Contest, the winner of the 2019 Nâzım Hikmet Poetry Prize, and a 2019 Adroit Journal Gregory Djanikian Scholar. He has had work published or forthcoming in The Paris Review, The Common, SLICE Magazine, Pinwheel, Winter Tangerine, and the Best New Poets 2017 anthology, among others. He wants to hear about all your wonder.

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