‘Dark Energy’: Poetry for Harriet Tubman

Last year marked 200 years since Harriet Tubman’s birth. To commemorate Tubman’s bicentennial, Ms. magazine launched the Tubman 200 project, honoring her extraordinary legacy.

Original art by Nettrice Gaskins.

“Tubman stood at the intersection of race and gender and ushered in freedom for all because her own freedom required it,” said scholar and project editor and Ms. contributor Janell Hobson. “She has stood the test of time through her incomparable example of bravery, fierceness, persistence, faith, self-assurance, compassion and commitment to solidarity. May her memory serve as a guiding light, much like the North Star she followed, steering us all in the right direction at this critical juncture.”

The multi-disciplinary project included: conversations with Tubman’s descendants; an interactive timeline of Tubman’s life; essays from experts including Dr. Keisha N. Blain and Kate Clifford Larson; a calculator that determines what the U.S. (literally) owes Tubman; a portal for readers to submit their own haikus celebrating Tubman’s legacy; and original poetry—including the show-stopping “dark energy” by scholar and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Read the full poem below or watch Gumbs perform the poem—then we invite you to explore the full Tubman 200 project.

dark energy
for Harriet Tubman

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, 2022


the Astronomical Society
of London meets
to write down what they know of stars

in eastern shore Maryland
araminta screams
into an unmeasurable life


sap dark root of love
opening out your skull
praise the girl who watched the comet and knew
praise the girl who tracked the north star and knew
praise the girl who studied herself and knew one thing:

sky is a map


expand the universe

open the wet reflective road
blood bashed temporal lobe

let everything that is not love
escape your skull
like so much stardust 


and while they chart
the pricks of light
use night
love night
be night
free night
write night

if colonialism is a starving hunter
and slavery is a splintered pencil
become untraceable


if all you breathe is freedom
they can’t hear you
if all you take is freedom
they can’t steal you
if all you feel is freedom
they can’t find you
if all you give is freedom
they can’t stop you
if all you love is freedom
they can’t catch you

girl you look just like freedom
they can’t see you 


sing to the river
wake the people
sing to the rice fields
wake the land
sing to the trees
the vines
the moss
sing to the river
the people come running
buildings burning in their wake
like stars


walk away from the broken promise
walk away like you walked before
walk away from the muddled battle
walk on into your own front door

freedom is the people you choose
the air you breathe 


the meeting room
is a night sky
you see infinite versions
of the universe
looking back at you
in each blinking face 


the comet comes back
the ground
has changed 


if you build it right
if you know the trees
if you make it sweet enough for your parents
and big enough for your community
and soon enough to live in it yourself
the old folks home can be a spaceship 


somebody thinks
they can fix the cosmos
get black history down in writing
fix your image keep you there
somewhere the first and last astronomer laughs 


and laughs

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