Aracelis Girmay: “You Are Who I Love”


You Are Who I Love

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying

Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who


Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database and used with the permission of the author.

Watch Girmay read her poem as part of The Climate Museum’s Black Lives and the Climate Crisis program here.

Read an interview conducted by Claire Schwartz about Girmay’s origins in poetry, language, and the world in The Bennington Review.



Aracelis Girmay is the author of three books of poems, most recently the black maria (BOA Editions, 2016). She is the editor of How to Carry Water: Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton (2020), and, with her sister, co-author of the forthcoming picture book What Do You Know? (Enchanted Lion, 2021). Author photo credit: Sheila Griffin.


Commentary by Amanda Moore

Valentine’s Day is traditionally a celebration of romantic love, an occasion marked with flowers and chocolates, handmade paper cards for classmates, or even a scowl or scoff at all the fuss. Whether you love it or hate it, you can hardly escape it, and now that capitalism has commandeered the holiday, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the possible ways to demonstrate love through commercial means. Poetry offers a different, less material way to profess and affirm various kinds of love, even though at times some love poems can feel exclusionary and isolating, depicting love we don’t share or cannot access. Today’s is a love poem for everyone and a model for how to love expansively and wholly. It embraces us and loves us for who we are and what we do, and its range allows each of us to feel seen and recognized. I turn to it again and again, not just to feel love, but because, in its expansiveness, it instructs me how to open my arms wide to the universe, to cherish and include, which in turn allows me to feel the magnitude and possibility of love.

At its most basic, this is a list poem, driven by the anaphora of its direct address to “You,” repeated at the beginning of most lines. This direct address makes the poem more intimate and immediate, asserting to the reader that it is “you” who is loved. In contrast, a first-person declarative mode, such as “I love,” would place focus on the speaker of the poem, and a descriptive third-person-like mode such as “he,” “she,” or “they,” would allow for too much distance, risking the reduction of what is beloved to a single dimension or a stereotype. When the poem opens “You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart,” the detail and intimacy of the image conjure a specific, exact person—this clear, unique, identifiable object of affection recognized and appreciated, instead of objectified.

The poem mostly moves forward by identifying and elaborating on the “You” and “You” and “You” in each new line, though there are enjambed lines and divergences from this structure that promote a sharpening of focus and a variation of rhythm and the poem’s music. These new dimensions in form and content give the reader reason to pause and deepen engagement. One example, in which the “You” is omitted from the beginning of the line, invites two different readings of the beloved who is “Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts.” In one reading, this beloved could be a continuance of the poetry-reading beloved who was “reciting Darwish, then June” in the previous stanza, adding breadth to the portrait of this doctor who dances and cares for their parents. It can also be read to introduce multiple beloveds within a single line, reminding us how quickly the poem can swerve, shift, surface, and dive again to include an ever-widening circle of beloved persons, behaviors, and activities. This and other brief disruptions in pattern enlarge the poem, multiplying meaning in content and form.

As the poem gathers beloveds, the progress is not linear or predictable—moving, say, from small to large or along any identifiable path. Nor are the examples of beloveds in the poem controlled by tension or opposition, offering an “A-to-Z-and-everything-in-between” approach that poses examples and then leaves it to the reader to imagine the wide range of people who might fall between the poles. This poem uses specificity and particularity, looking into corners and backrooms to send love and light into every dark space of human existence and struggle. It’s easy to imagine ourselves, in all our peculiarities and quirks, embraced by a speaker who also loves those who are “getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news…always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are . . .” Here, you can see how the specificity works almost ironically to make the poem more expansive and inclusive.

All this specificity and inclusivity demands length, and this long poem isn’t afraid to go the distance to turn over every stone and shine a light on every beloved. This is what makes it a necessary valentine to us all, particularly in this year of isolation and division. By unabashedly taking up space to include so many beloveds, the poem reminds us how much room there is in the world and how necessary it is to include diversity of experience and background within the ambit of our esteem. I don’t want to offer too burnished a reading, and I’m personally not yet willing or able to reach across certain starkly-rendered divides (re)opened in the last few years, just to achieve some nebulous sense of unity. That’s okay—I don’t think that’s what the poem asks of us or depicts. Instead, the singular “I” of the speaker is interested in the singular-but-various “you,” forging a connection that somehow manages to be both intimate and inclusive at the same time. The result is a poem that functions with the same tenderness as a homemade valentine and which, just maybe, offers each of us the sweet thrill of an invitation to “Be Mine.”



Amanda Moore‘s debut collection of poems, Requeening, was selected for the National Poetry Series and will be published by HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZYZZYVA, Cream City Review, and Best New Poets, and she is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Currently a Brown Handler Resident at the San Francisco Friends of the Public Library, Amanda is a high school teacher and Marin Poetry Center Board member, and she lives by the beach in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Author photo credit: Clementine Nelson.



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