Photo credit: Joan Stickles
Watch her drift beyond shore’s edge
Body half risen, half submerged
Observed by faithfuls on the bank
Robed white as if for rapture.
Watch preacher dunk her under
The cool, murky shallow & up
Into searing midday sunlight.
Watch sisters receive her with
A towel & embraces
like a newborn damp & alive.
Watch her take to the road alone
At service end, returning
To her own sacred ground that
Heals scars water alone cannot
Cleanse, that full immersion cannnot
Don’t assume responsibility for making
the essentials like mac & cheese,
stewed chiecken or collard greens,
the old hands got them covered.
Expect the whole fam there, or,
at least, the oneswho return emails,
phone calls & don’t have personal beefs.
Expect to find the men lounging on living
room sofas, watching Saturday night ball
on the flat screen, debating the MVP race;
the women crowded around the kitchen
table passing gossip with a bottle of wine;
kids tearing from room to room ’till some
sharp parental looks send them outdoors.
Come expecting your grandma, aunt & uncles
to give you a tight embraces that leave back &
shoulders aching; the dense scent of meals slow
cooking in the oven, on the stove or waiting pre-
made in tin plastic trays. Expect some names
to shine more brightly than others in your mind
& to discover a new life here to replace the one
seas, continents &distance of time has left behind.
It is the mosaic scene on the ceiling
that helps you bare the line. & then you
notice a single colored body building a
nation amongst a hard-hat army of white.
You recall receiving news of a relative that
made it elsewhere, via waves, on a vessel too
small to hold its burden. You imagine some
ancestor must have made it here, via waves,
to build a nation not their own. But you didn’t
make it here with the trauma of a journey. Your
journey was via wings, belongings strapped on a
shoulder & rolled on four wheels. & after an officer
inspects your passport & your body, his phone call
escorts you to a separate room, while the mosaic
scene observes the episode from the ceiling above.
Remember how your summit was preceded by a base:
low-rent high rise, heating in mood swings, lone window
lost in grey, Neighbors trading stabbing words, shadows
racing along peeling walls, mattress marked by bodies undefined,
suitcase bursting with clothes, photos of kin & a lover left behind,
two books of poems you didn’t read aloud until now, when progress
rests on concealing your mother tongue, on assuming a foreign one.
–For Jacques Derrida
Each morning we awake
to the death of our fantasies:
She with straight, silky hair
He with abs taut as
djembe drum skin
She with eyes a frosty marine,
He with upper-body
sculpted & defined
She less assertive, more docile;
He more intelligent, less obtuse
someone we can each wake up to
without loathing or regret,
without pity or guilt,
A body baring a dream,
not an authentic being.
––A name spilling out
its nostalgic glut.
––A lamp alit by the window
Sill in night’s lonely recesses
––n, The place where one lives or was brought up,
with reference ton the feelings of belonging, comfort, etc.,
––A locution of being, too fluid
For its structure, its meaning.
Tonight we’ll make heaven when everything else is burning.
Tonight we’ll find Eden in a wasteland of rubble heaps,
Smoldering ruins, splintered asphalt & railway tracks.
Tonight our paradise is underground, packed wall-to-wall,
Air charged with sweat & bass-filled electric speakers.
Tonight we defy that sense of death & streets luring us into
Nihilistic ruin. We’ll retreat later on to the rooftop, watching
Sunrise & her promise of a life beyond this that is unnamed.
I am a present tense
Even in a body
Not my own.
You wore your identity as a
Coat one size too small–
Confining, irritating from the
Constricting fit of history.
Neither Africa nor Azania*
Could break your self-hate.
As if the ebony clay
You were molded in
Became a fruit too bitter
To be consumed.
*Azania = South Africa