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Baptist in the Summer

Almost the sun rising in your chest, almost

the moon too. Except you are also the sun

& the moon rising—reaching for what is

reaching. I wanted to feel it too. What caused

the moon women to stomp up rivers, to faint

into their daughters, return to a man they feared.

The pew a trenching, a surging purple field.

The scene too ecstatic to slow:

bodies fine-tuned

to their wishing; tambourines talking back to god

as cocoons wax & wane beneath the deacon’s tongue.

My mother’s wet & opened face. Where was she

in her looking at me, her palm now hovering above

mine? Her sight an engine. Her sight two hands daring

my blood. Do you feel that, the electricity? she panted.

Yes, I lied. Forgive me. Yes, my eyes flinched shut.

Written in preparation for winter

let me know if you need anything

my dearest friend

my sweet second heart

i do not know what i need

i made tea this morning

i posted a shirtless photo

i showered by candlelight

in the dark drew my name

ghostly on the mirror’s wet face

dried my hear as it faded away:

i want to be desired

but do not want to be touched

i want to roll my depression

like a marble between my fingers
or else skip it smooth like a rock

across the fresh & icing river

Prayer Severing the Cycle

for Tomica

My love is as ancient as my blood.

And of course my blood is still mine

because a woman, sweetened black

with good song, pulled me from the river

like an axe pulled back from the bark.

I learned love, first, as scar.

And of course my love is only mine

because I found the nerve to say it is.

Ha, My love is mine.

But was first my mother’s. Not the how

but the why. But was first her mother’s.

Not the how but the why.

Not the how; Not the how; Not the how;

Not the how; Not the how; Not the how.

I am bored with this beat. I seek

a different dance toward death.

Lord, listen up. Lean in:

I crave a love that happens as sweetly

as it was named. If love must be swung,

let it soften. Not split.


I feel closest tot he angels
when I am in the middle

of a thunderstorm,

soaked t othe skin,

shook up with sound,

waiting for my bones

to become branches

of white light.

Death ain’t nothing but a song

My mother moved out of her body
decided it was no longer worthy

it couldn’t contain her laughter. couldn’t

obey the house-rules of human. her spirit,

that young & fresh fever, to call

the night her dance club. wanted to try

on new clothes, stay out later. My mother
now wears the world. dresses herself with

the tall grass. blushes her cheeks with red

clay. she laughs & a forest fire awakes. she

laughs & every mountain bows to her sharp

thunder. she laughs & each cicada begins

to sing. last night Saint-Paul was cloaked in

steam. fog traveled from some distant heat.

no, I think you’ve got it all wrong. some
one must have asked my mother to dance

Grief, again

every black woman with grey hair is your dead mother you collapse in walmart knees buckled at the sight of an electric scooter you wrap yourself around yourself & wail into a naked mattress your lover’s hand is placed like heated stones along your heaving back you don’t want to be touched & want to be touched everywhere you show the dean the death certificate & are allowed to stay another semester drowning would be easiest you think as rain draws razor thin lines down your bedroom window you throw a mug across the kitchen you want to die but don’t want to leave a mess memory is a ruptured organ memory is a ghost begging for new flesh memory taps a gun to your inner skull & demands you bring back the dead every word your mother last spoke scuttle like mice in your deserted head grief is a paper cut at every bend in your body grief shaves each bone down to a shriveled white flag

what the dead know by heart

lately, when asked how are you, i

respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder

often: if the gun that will unmake me

is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a

flock of blue jays, will come carry my black

to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did

not die and there is no god or law to

thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed

a mirror and did not see a body, instead

a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i

haven't enough room to both rage and

weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost

white hand appears over my mouth


You are the bread and the knife,

The crystal goblet and the wine...

-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,

the crystal goblet and the wine.

You are the dew on the morning grass

and the burning wheel of the sun.

You are the white apron of the baker,

and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,

the plums on the counter,

or the house of cards.

And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.

There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,

maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,

but you are not even close

to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show

that you are neither the boots in the corner

nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,

speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,

that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,

the evening paper blowing down an alley

and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees

and the blind woman's tea cup.

But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife.

You will always be the bread and the knife,

not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Grief puppet

don't tell your Uber driver that you're going to an orgy

besides her name is Diane and she only has this job

because her niece says she should be more social

do not nervously try to cover up your mistake

by saying you meant board meeting

besides it's 3 a.m. and the only things open this late

can also request another thing to open

do not try to cancel the ride it is not your account

those who sent for your body were kind enough

to pay the fifteen fifty it took for you to arrive

your nails are ready to jagat to chew on

you've produced enough sweat to fill the vehicle

and drown you both to consider headphones

you consider ripping out your own tongue

and fear of confessing more

and before you reach for the handle to tuck

and roll clean out of her 2004 Honda Civic

she says how many bodies will you try on tonight

and suddenly she is your mother or her ghost

and suddenly your blood stiffens retreats rewinds

and no one died and the casket is still just wood

unchopped reassembled the tree resurrected working

and grief is not yet a garden of thorns

blooming in your chest

and grief is not yet a question

you've answered with sex

the slow teasing out of sweat like loose thread

unraveling your sadness

and look you're just a boy

grieving until he too is a thing to grieve

until his pulse is as thin and damp

as an obituary panting beneath sweaty hands

and what is an orgy

if not the opposite of a funeral

if not an attempt to press your pulse against

as many strangers as possible

to compare how alive you still are

and isn't the car now your mother's hearse

parading her body to that freshly gutted plot of Earth

and suddenly you are the driver

and suddenly the sky breaks a sweat

its whole body blue and ballooning wet

but you're also the casket

but you're also the soggy grave

parting it's greedy lips

you ghost orphan you motherless phantom

considering the dyes following your maker

buried alive I know you desire decay

Dante desire now a way to die

without losing your body

so why not use it

why not let a stranger lick the grief

from your palms and this too is eulogy

and this too is prayer

and this too can wet the sea

to conjure thornless crops

can sing back alive whatever parts of you died

with her whatever left

and your mother's buried rate

and Diane slams the brakes

you have arrived

she says B save his apartment door

a pearly gate a cliff

overlooking a thrashing Lake

and your blood begins

and you lighthouse your tongue

and you shipwreck an entire room to driftwood

o this festival of lament

the sloppy surgery

this homemade baptism boy

you reek of grief

they smell your sadness

can taste the tears start streaming your cheek

you lonely riot you laughing graveyard

you hungry and haunted boy

I know I know you want so badly to feel alive

you want so badly to be born again


Poem Erasing Itself As It’s Written

‘last night

the fears of my mother came knocking and when i

opened the door

they tried to explain themselves and i understood

everything they said’

—Lucille Clifton

I immediately thought to apologize for seeing you dead

without your permission. Without first knocking. Silly.


Maybe I thought the casket would be closed at least until

the church opened to the public. But there you were,

powdered. Pressed. Your face a suggestion of your face.

Firm & artificially lit. I was bitter with how restless you

looked, how desperate to blink. How no one knew

you’d hurry home & grab a softer shade of red or you’d wait

in the car & have me fetch vaseline. More comfortable shoes.


Make sure I’m buried with my teeth, you recoiled, after watching

your own mother’s mouth slide & sink. Her jaw propped,

a perfect inanimate square. Where s my mom you huffed.

Exhausted. As if to blow out a match held to your lips

by a stranger. Where s my M aybe I thought Mama ?

I’m not sure: As my feet moved beneath me.

Your body,

moving further

from mine.


moving further from mine

your body is a soft shade of red

a match held to the lips of Mama?

a perfect stranger exhaling

a perfect stranger make sure i m buried

with my mom you blew the candles

i closed your casket was a prop sinking

where’s my home i thought & blinked

me knocking desperate as teeth

restless with apology no one knew

our comfortable bitter how you pressed

my jaw open my face was your face

recoiled at your mother’s feet

my mouth lit red with permission

to fetch you dead


fetch you dead my mouth was your mouth was your mom s

soft teeth moving further from apology desperate strangers

exhale at a closed casket then recoil at their mother’s knocking


our mother’s knocking

is a soft exhalation

of apology