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‘Serena’ by Porsha Olayiwola

— Lyrik Courtney

Raise up, hold up, praise. Porsha O.’s ‘Serena’ (published in the second volume of Breakbeat Poets, aptly titled ‘Black Girl Magic’) reads as though a slow-motion capture of a lethal volley, wherein the camera traipses from one end of the court to another, painstakingly documenting the tensed quad, the slow glide of sweat down one’s cheeks, the expression of incredulity, then fitful rage that crosses the opposing player’s face at the realization that their small and meager gods have failed them. A dramatic analogy, I know, but an appropriate one, given that Olayiwola’s tribute to Serena Williams harbors as much earth-shaking tension as Homer’s Invocation to the Muse.

hold up the trophy
and the gold
hold up the god
and the girl

The poem’s images are crafted with all the precision and intensity of a litany, whose repetitive phrasing frames Williams as a wonder without denying her the humanity she is deserved. The act of lifting—figuratively, but perhaps quite literally as well—seems a collective task, embodied in the repeated clauses that come together like disembodied voices in the piece’s triumphant final lines. There is no fall from grace, here. Only Serena, god-like in victory and undeniably mortal—as if Athena, or Aphrodite but always explicitly, magnificently Black—in making a mockery of white women for their hubris, ascending from the sea, to the courts, and finally, to the heavens. Blessed be.

Haymarket Books