How does the body recite its way out
From under the grammar of flagellation?
Perhaps the verb ‘strike’ will change
And kiss its fearsome subject with permission.
Perhaps there’s a sentence that can be avoided,
Or a sharp noun that the mouth refuses to utter!
Obedience, a child of the sun is forced
To remember it like the taste of sugar.
A mother’s milk is long forgotten,
But the throbbing under the skin
Becomes its own tense marker—
A song that sings through time
And out of time—an infinity of remembrance.
The body knows. It has its own encyclopedia.
Welts from cowhides,
Aching ribs from steel toe boots,
And a purple crescent moon below one’s right eye
That refuses to wane. The body recites and
Remembers the A B Cs of thunderclap
And the crackle of lightning from a teacher
Dressed in a black cassock with skin from
A land of snow. The body remembers
The warm gush of yellow fluid
When a child in khaki shorts
And black boots was left standing
Like a wet dog in his own puddle,
As he was unable to master
The master’s grammar.
by Patrick Sylvain
Sylvain is a poet, social critic, and photographer. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Published in several creative anthologies and reviews, including: African American Review, Agni, American Poetry Review, Aperture, Callaloo, Caribbean Writers, Transition, Ploughshares, SX Salon, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Sylvain’s academic essays are anthologized. Sylvain received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, an Ed.M. from Harvard; and received his MFA from Boston University as a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow. Sylvain is on faculty at Brown University’s Africana Studies. Sylvain is also the Shirle Dorothy Robbins Creative Writing Prize Fellow at Brandeis University and has forthcoming publications with Beacon Press (Essay, 2019), and Central Square Press (Poetry, July 2018).
Self-Portrait Formed with Unrelated Contents
Don’t look at the girl pirouetting over the cattle guard even if
she’s wearing a pink gingham bikini in the evening. This isn’t
about nightshade plants or sinewy cats floating the fence line.
We have other fish to fry after the migraine aura leaves her limbs
and lips numb as a stroke. Okay, the cattle guard is true. And there was
an orange elephant bank, petunias in pots, and a little row to hoe.
But listen. There was mercy. She came to god and her days
cracked apart like jackhammered cement and the stairs wobbled
and the mother said she was brand new and the girl in gingham—it’s true—
went on about her business. Her business was watching out
for the sky to be right. Listening for a car door in the dark. Twisting
banana ice pops in her mouth and not dangling her clean bare legs
in places where she knew good and well snakes could be.
Self-Portrait with Magic and Swallowing
At times it was like this, wasn’t it. Barn after rickety barn
and a series of cloudy directions. Sometimes night
curled in your fleshy young mouth. There’s no cure
for the dark birds you’ve eaten. Through the tall grass
a beautiful couple comes swaggering into view.
They’ve been ambling with the water dogs again.
Yes, there’s a house here hidden from view.
Yes, the deer bed in that thicket.
Two leisurely bodies ease one into another
like rope coiling over itself. The smell of water,
bailing twine, honeysuckle, dusk. Yes,
someone is dying. Blood slogs through the body
and flesh tugs at flesh. Copper-penny taste on the tongue.
There’s the tuneful splash of water bird or dog.
Delicate bones collect—each churned out clean from your lips.
by Wendy Miles
Wendy Miles’s work has been published or is forthcoming in places such as Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, Arts & Letters, Memoir Journal, Southern Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, storySouth, The MacGuffin, Alabama Literary Review and R.kv.r.y. Quarterly. Winner of the 2014 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a semi-finalist for the 2017, 2016 and 2013 Perugia Press Prize, Wendy lives and writes in Virginia.
because the boy with the bike whose handlebars held you
from South High to home would see the bruises you got
when you jumped off too early.
picking scabs might leave scars,
your mother said as she removed gravel
from cuts with your legs extended on the bathtub’s edge.
bulky bandages exposed the truth
faster than you could disagree.
but that was long ago and you’re grown now,
or you want to be, legs extended
in a skirt far above your knees, so that the boy with the bike
might look a little too long.
you wait to pick the scab until it’s just right,
when it’s ready to jump off anyway,
the skin nude colored enough to keep this secret.
if you pick too early,
the boy might not let you ride again,
might say it’s too dangerous,
look at your scar, he might say,
as if it’s proof that his handlebars
shouldn’t hold this blame.
by Chavonn Williams Shen
Chavonn Williams Shen is a Minneapolis native and an educator. She was the first place winner for the 2017 Still I Rise grant for African American women hosted by Alternating Current Press and a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was also a 2017 Best of the Net Award finalist, a winner of the 2016-2017 Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose through the Loft Literary Center, and a 2016 fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in: Beecher’s Magazine, The A3 Review, and The Coil, as well as other journals. A graduate of Carleton College, Chavonn is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing at Hamline University.