Harryette Mullen

No Stranger Fruit

No bitter peach or stranger fruit
grafted to a noble tree,
she takes her place in lineage,

in line though longshot to a throne.
How dark might she be?
How dark becomes her loveliness!

A newborn beauty in the world,
old as being human.
Her own indivisible soul—

not one drop dilution or taint.
Showing all her colors, still too soon
to know how history hurts.


In this interminable absence,
annihilation is blunt certainty.
The desert speaks lucidly,
parsing exhausted iotas of dust.
Whatever lives here evolves
toward extinction
clad in brutal veneers
of scant survival.
Ecstatic snakes inhabit
radiant desolation
no less scathing than
malignant sun staring down
at a ruinous landscape.

How Can We Know the Dancer from the Dance?

Ever since we watched you take the cakewalk. Ever since the Great White Way yanked Charleston’s kick and swing. Ever since Bojangles taught Little Colonel Curly Top to tappity-tap up and down big house stairs. Ever since the camera captured flawless Fayard flying high over Harold’s head. Ever since Jackie did the peppermint twist at a White House ball. Ever since Madonna posed for Vogue and a fallen archangel tiptoed on the moon. Ever since we first and last stepped off the Jim Crow train. Now, when we stop dancing, the world doesn’t know how to move.

Now’s Not the Time for Your Tears

A man with more money than God
flies up to heaven in a luxury pod.
Ten minutes later he’s grinning with pride,
thanks to the workers who paid for his ride.

A factory laborer dies on the job.
Quickly the bosses replace the poor slob.
It isn’t a problem of safety, they claim,
but the worn-out worker who is to blame.

A long-haul trucker with a big payload
feels the rig seizing up and pulls off the road.
Tries waiting for help but, at last, has to leave.
Justice says you should stay there and freeze.

All along the line, folks feeling unease.
So many fall sick with this mystery disease.
Supervisors ordering all the meatpackers,
“You got to be workers not slackers.”

Workers keep working with no protection,
regardless of a raging infection.
The managers start placing their bets
on how many workers come down with it next.

When nobody has any immunity,
it’s a business opportunity to profit with impunity.
Ask the hospital workers who multitask,
attending to patients with recycled masks.

Now is not the time for your tears.
Now’s not the time for your tears.

Based in Los Angeles, poet and scholar Harryette Mullen is the author of Sleeping with the Dictionary, Recyclopedia, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary and The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed To Be: Essays and Interviews. She has received many awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a United States Artist Fellowship.

Read next: Poetry by A.L. Nielsen

Founded in 2020, Three Fold is an independent quarterly based in Detroit that presents exploratory points of view on arts, culture, and society in addition to original works in various media, including visual art, literature, film and the performing arts. We solicit and commission contributions from artists, writers, and activists around the world. Three Fold is a publication of Trinosophes Projects, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization located in the historic Eastern Market neighborhood in downtown Detroit. Click here to check out Three Fold’s events page and view a schedule of the publication’s on-site activities.

Three Fold recognizes, supports, and advocates for the sovereignty of Michigan’s twelve federally-recognized Indian nations, for historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their Homelands. We operate on occupied territories called Waawiiyaataanong, named by the Anishinaabeg and including the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), and Bodewatomi (Potawatomi) peoples. We hold to commit to Indigenous communities in Waawiiyaataanong, their elders, both past and present, and future generations.