The Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy’s 2023 Poetry Contest

Second Place

By TaKya Hughes, East Tennessee State University


Her eyelids were a lovely yellow-green,
and her lips a perfectly puckered nude

when Lizzo carefully lifted President Madison’s flute,
and changed America’s mood—

She dazzled me, at home, in her dazzling leotard,
the sequins gleaming seamlessly under the relentless bombard

of the relentlessly bright lights aimed directly at the stage—all the cameras in DC,
the entire world’s stage had the pleasure of watching

She, both black and a woman, playing the state’s crystal flute,
which was owned by a man who owned countless slaves that were never en route

to freedom from ownership or Canadian skies or bottomless oceans
that protected the cries of thousands of others like them ready to seize

freedom by the horns in the only way that would ease their dignity and pride
under the threat of slavery and subjugation, choosing their dangerous sort of bravery

instead of the cruelty of the freedom nation. Lizzo’s eyelids
were a lovely yellow-green, and her lips a perfectly puckered nude

when she carefully lifted a founding father’s flute
and changed America’s mood—

For better or worse, I didn’t really care. I was just happy to watch her play it,
her fingers fluttering delicately across precious crystal glassware.

She was stunning, a personified statement about the injustices we’ve overcome,
but I couldn’t deny for a second that I enjoyed this part of the battle won

With James Madison rolling in his grave at a black woman with the audacity
to take his old crystal flute and play it, with her freedom-found tenacity.