Posted in Current Events, Poetry

In the absence of justice, a scent.

(for Robert Godwin, Sr.)

The scent of an old Black man is

the dry flaking skin of an undergreased scalp
maybe, when the weather is warm,
the must of an armpit, slightly overripe
and sometimes liquor, hard candy, a poor
breath-mask of stale mints and sometimes
tobacco in the form of mentholated
cigarettes or flimsy cigars, those
slivers of soap left after the bar
is worn down and cracked, the thin crescents
of motor oil embedded in cuticles,
grim black grins under every nail


so visceral it still wafts out to you
from the fond photographs his family
is forced to disseminate after
some younger man shoots him dead without
reason, remorse, or warning.

May that scent assail his assailant,
as he draws his last breath.
May he understand the breadth
of the life he’s stolen.
May an aged air swell in his nostrils
and rush through the walls of his mouth
so that he forgets the very taste
of his own tongue, forgets even
the odor guilt emits through the epithelia.
All that should be left is an aroma of absence.
Would that it would thicken till
it tends, at times, to block the throat.
Should he live to be an old man,
may it cling to him still, a inescapable cask
fermenting all the years between his last and yours.

Posted in Broadsides for Sale, Poetry, Wings to Write Consulation & Coaching

Buy a Broadside, Support a Family.

2012 has been a banner year for Per-post readership and blog subscriptions have increased exponentially, and feedback from readers has been affirming and overwhelmingly positive. I’d like to thank everyone who regularly or occasionally visits this site for their continued support. I hope what you’ve read here has been encouraging, thought-provoking, inciting, or inspiring in some way. This is ever my aim.

I’ve decided to embark on something of a social experiment, born of necessity (which seems ever prepared to prove to me that it is, indeed, the mother of invention) and of self-promotion. These tend to be areas of great discomfort for me. It’s difficult to be candid about what you need (money!) and to ask for it without apology or shame. It’s even more difficult — at least for me — to say: my work is worthy of what I’m asking. I am good enough at what I do to expect fair compensation. You’d be surprised at how often this simple confession of self-worth has remained caught in my throat.

Right now, I’d be deeply appreciative if you’d place a pre-order for a broadside via the PayPal link below. As is the case with so many families right now, particularly single-parent families, freelance-income families, and start-of-the-school-year-pre-first-paycheck adjuncting families, funds here are very limited. Purchasing a broadside today would make a big difference for us.

Until now, I’ve offered all of my blog content for free, without making any attempt to monetize my online content. That will continue to be the case at this site.

But in addition to the continued labor of love I’ll be doing here, providing longtime supporters and new readers with thoughtful, carefully crafted work on a bimonthly (or more) basis, I’m proud to announce that, for a short time, I’ll be offering limited edition poetry and prose broadsides for sale. Each broadside will feature a self-portrait-as-watermark and a piece of original writing, much of which has been featured here in some form. They will be numbered and signed. My hope and intent is that, in forthcoming years, they will become collector’s items.

The following are preview images, purposely altered so as not to be duplicated:

“Gleaning”: a poem, available in 8″x10″ cardstock b&w, limited run of 25 for $15 each
“Missions”: a poem, available in 8″x10″ cardstock b&w, limited run of 25 copies, $15 each
“Sloughing”: a poem, available in 8″x10″ b&w, limited run of 25 copies for $15 each
“Trapeze”: a poem, available in 8″x10″ b&w, limited run of 25 copies for $15 each
“Lovesick”: a prose-poem, available in 8″x10″ b&w, limited run of 25 at $20 each

The “Lovesick” title was previously published here as a blog entry. If this run of broadsides goes well, I would love to offer any of my previously published blog posts as a customized, autographed prints upon request. If there’s content here that you particularly enjoy or value, please consider requesting that I make it part of my next limited run.

Each of these currently offered titles will be shipped via USPS first class mail. Add $4.00 to the total cost of your purchase before submitting your order via the PayPal link below. Pre-orders are being accepted now. Orders placed this week will ship on Monday, September 10, 2012. For orders placed after September 10, please allow 10-14 business days following your order date for delivery.



Posted in NaPoWriMo, Poetry

NaPoWriMo: poems 7-11

i am totally flaking out. i had to catch up, in haiku. and not particularly strong or powerful haiku, either. just… rushed, keep-up-with-the-challenge haiku.

so here it is.

i should note that these are interconnected.

(for d.n.l.)

poem 7 – haiku

if prison’s a whale
and your cell, its belly, be
Jonah. wash ashore.

poem 8 – haiku

i know why you need
to circumvent Ninevah:
you’ll find mirrors there.

poem 9 – haiku

fear not reflection,
for in every flaw, there is
awe, grace, and power.

poem 10 – haiku

prisons are, themselves,
the criminals, molesting
all they claim to help.

poem 11- haiku

for the newly freed,
smog is as glorious as
tropics’ salted breeze.

Posted in NaPoWriMo, Poetry

NaPoWriMo: poems 4-6.

poem 4: missions

And then I took you to dinner
because I was used to paying,
every meal an apology for
the way you were raised:

I’m sorry your father left you.
I’m sorry that when he returned,
you were already Ellison’s
man underground, mind half-
Hoovered into oblivion.

Love can be retaught.
You can be deprogrammed.

Like all the other nights, you dined,
relishing saffron rice, ripping
naan into swaths, staining
your ample lips with curry: no

and later—
when we kissed, I took in
the garlicky grin behind that
mouth so used to secreting away
your truths and I thought:

I should’ve been a missionary,
the way I invade these ancestral villages
and offer the men my salvation.


poem 5: untitled

these are not the mud plains
where we met, two mongrels still black enough
to belong to the fields, where we were freer
to court and forge cabals in cottages of straw.

i am sure we are different, though
i cannot speak for you, whose voice is
little more than a wasp’s hum
every seventh summer now.

once, not long after you left, i was hitched
to a plow and made the Molly mule
Zora meant only as metaphor.

i knew then why we never married.

these are not the mines where they found you
and i asked for you, opened and autopsied.
i still dream of your lungs, so
marbled with soot that their blood
hardened sleek as obsidian.

that time, you vowed a return
as a soldier of fortune, as the driver of
a westward-facing wagon:
and you will have bonnets
and petticoats a-plenty;
you will know the shuddering
cool of a parasol’s shade.

belief was impossible to conjure;
reincarnation is not an erasure.

poem 6: morgue

i do not know why
i was called to identify your body
after your overdose in the alley
behind Yummy’s with that girl in the
yellowed gingham dress.

but when i got there, i was told
that i was your emergency
contact and i suppose it made sense
that i would be. we were
so close once that i held
your DNA, stroked the strands
as they gathered themselves
into a hardy little core that
siphoned life, long after you left mine.

i should’ve felt more distress
than i did, looking down at the
milky crust scaling your irises
like acid caking corroded batteries
but Lord, it would be years
before i could fathom
that death would be more permanent
than my belief in you.

And then I took you to dinner

because I was used to paying,

every meal an apology for

the way you were raised:

I’m sorry your father left you.

I’m sorry that when he returned,

you were already Ellison’s

man underground, mind half-

Hoovered into oblivion.

Love can be retaught.

You can be deprogrammed.

Like all the other nights, you dined,

relishing saffron rice, ripping

naan into swaths, staining

your ample lips with curry: no


and later—

when we kissed, I took in

the garlicky grin behind that

mouth so used to secreting away

your truths and I thought:

I should’ve been a missionary,

the way I invade these ancestral villages

and offer the men my salvation.

Posted in NaPoWriMo, Poetry

NaPoWriMo: poems 1-3.

April is, of course, National Poetry Month. Last year I participated in the 30/30 challenge, writing 30 poems in 30 days. I’m trying it again this year, but I decided it on a whim, on the 2nd. So I’m a day behind. Every 3-5 days, I’ll post a digest of the few poems I’ve written (so as not to inundate you with daily posts). Occasionally, I may include some commentary, but that’s still up in the air. Let me know if you’re interested in the process; I’ll pontificate if it’s wanted. *shrug*

Anyway, here are poems 1-3, written between April 2 and April 4:

poem 1: surfeit

but tonight, let us feast
at the table of what wasn’t.
we will dine on the scraps of
an undercooked love,
use old letters as our linen,
dip our fingers into
the cleansing bowls of all
our ancient secrets. we
will sip hours on a claret
of could’ve-beens,
and at last, when our
rack of regrets is served
we will get through the brine
and the sinew. then, we
will suck dry the bones.

poem 2: picture day, overton elementary: chicago, 2011

(for ukailya lofton)

the candies crinkled
and clacked in her plaits
and the smacking of seven-
year-old lips filled with
blue raspberry
cherry and
watermelon bliss
whipped down the full
length of the hall.
ukailya was having a ball,
green apple grins glossing her
mouth as she waltzed
from class to cafeteria,
cheerily letting her friends
pluck the low-hanging fruit
in her hair. and there, with
the promise of plentiful
wallet-sized keepsakes
of the day she was deemed
the sweetest girl in school,
she skipped into computer
class, the sparkle of flash
bulbs alight in her eyes.
come here, sweetie, her teacher
cooed like the serpent of Eden,
comb your hair into your face
with your fingers. it’s cute.

strip her of anonymity.
auction her to the avatars
and trolls, who skulk
beneath bridges and
grab for young girls.
and when you have sold
her off, left her susceptible
to an echoing hall of taunts,
return to your post, where i
hope you are haunted, by
the wilt of her smile as
she says: “I feel sad that
she put my picture on Facebook.

I don’t think she liked it.”

poem 3: gleaning

i am no Ruth and you,
no Boaz, but were you
a silo, i’d scale your walls
and climb in, gather your sins
into baskets, trudge them out
to the threshing floor.

(our lives are more than the
parables preached about them.)

i’d linger on each stalk and lament
that the interesting bits of you
must be blown off by the winnowing
wind of a Savior who requires
pure grain for an unleavened bread.

(i would envy your weevils.)

but eventually, i would sacrifice
you for harvest; that can’t be
helped. some day, you will be
that perfect loaf and i will be a fish
divided for the throngs.

(we are not yet where we belong.)

Posted in Parenting, Poetry


for Story


–And after you, the seep:
a bloody comet’s tail, eight weeks,
arachnid crawl
of clots, the slow
retraction of a slackened core.
A self unrecognized, a shell
awash on foreign shores.


you have made me something
akin to Lot’s wife: forewarned
to shuffle off
regret, to slough
the longing
for abandoned lands.


Love is a dermis, earned
by the measured erosion
of ego, a molting of
parsimony, a flaking of
our sin. For you,
I will slough all
my skins; I love
beneath the bone.

Posted in Poetry

The Pacifist Speaks of Pregnancy.

After hearing about Mother Clifton yesterday, it felt really necessary to attempt another poem. I haven’t written one of my own, since last summer.

I didn’t want to write about her, but I did want to write for her, something reminiscent (but hopefully not entirely derivative) of her voice.

This is what I finished this morning:

when you heard about
the occupation of my egg,
you imagined miniature fascists
marching, steel-booted, across
my womb and wanted, instantly,
to liberate it:

were it my troop, trudging through,
he’d build a commune, rather than
staging a coup.

since it isn’t, you engage
in the most passive protest
possible, writing me wistfully
of the world before, as though
i’m capable of recalling
any night that ever preceded
the dustiness of this hidden alcove,
the thump and start of invasion,
the chemical hue of the clouds, after war.

Posted in Nonfiction, Poetry

RIP, Lucille Clifton.

I came home from a day of motherhood prep to find that one of my literary foremothers has passed away. Frequent visitors to this blog may know how connected I feel to Lucille Clifton. I loved her. And it feels like one of my own relatives has left this realm. I hope her spirit is at rest and peace.

Keep her legacy alive. Listen to her voice:

Posted in Nonfiction, Poetry

In Praise of Lucille Clifton.

I love Lucille Clifton. I have since freshman year of college when my poetry professor, Lori Shpunt, introduced my class to “Homage to My Hips.”

While most of my young blackwoman peer group pledges loyalty to Nikki Giovanni (who I’ve never quite adored as much as everyone thinks I should) or Sonia Sanchez (who I’ve seen live twice and who leaves me in staggering awe) or the woman I consider to be Clifton’s closest contemporary, Gwendolyn Brooks, I’m really just into the cracked-open, rubbed-raw, made-plain work Clifton favors.

I find her fascinating for a number of reasons, but her poems about womanhood—what it has wrought and what it will bring, what to remember and what to expect—have taught me innumerable lessons.

Take “Poem in Praise of Menstruation”:

if there is a river
more beautiful than this
bright as the blood
red edge of the moon if
there is a river
more faithful than this
returning each month
to the same delta if there

is a river
braver than this
coming and coming in a surge
of passion, of pain if there is

a river
more ancient than this
daughter of eve
mother of cain and of abel if there is in

the universe such a river if
there is some where water
more powerful than this wild

pray that it flows also
through animals
beautiful and faithful and ancient
and female and brave

It isn’t easy to appreciate the period. The younger you are, the better menopause sounds. When I was a teenager, I just assumed menopause meant the final, blissful absence of blood and pain. And I pined for that time, decades hence, when all these wretched week-long hostage situations would end and I’d be free to walk about as a survivor of the blood wars. It seemed a lovely dream.

Then I read “to my last period”:

well girl, goodbye,/ after thrity-eight years./ thirty-eight years and you/ never arrived/ splendid in your red dress/ without trouble for me/ somewhere, somehow.
now it is done,/ and i feel just like/ the grandmothers who,/ after the hussy has gone,/ sit holding her photograph/ and sighing,
wasn’t she/ beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?

and “poem to my uterus”:

you   uterus/ you have been patient/ as a sock/ while i have slippered into you/ my dead and living children/ now/ they want to cut you out/ stocking i will not need/ where i am going/ where am i going/ old girl/ without you/ uterus/ my bloody print/ my estrogen kitchen/ my black bag of desire/ where can i go/ barefoot/ without you/ where can you go/ without me

And I knew, suddenly, the profound loss I’d feel the day I woke up and realized the passage of eggs had ceased and the primal parade of dazzling, swollen, womanish years had come to an end.

Clifton is kind of amazing that way; her work is strangely preparatory. It girds you for a future you cannot begin to fathom.

When I was younger and doggedly pro-life (because of my evangelistic, Pentecostal upbringing), I bristled the first time I encountered “the lost baby poem”:

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born in winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car
we would have made the thin walk
over the genecy hill into the canada winds
to let you slip into a stranger’s hands
if you were here i could tell you
these and some other things

and if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers wash over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller of seas
let black men call me stranger always
for your never named sake

I didn’t understand anything about difficult choices. I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t understand.

And now, over a decade later, when I read this particular work, it tells me things I never thought I’d need to know. It allows me to ponder the power of choice and, then, briefly, it leaves me incapacitated.

No matter how I old I get, I feel like I’m constantly becoming a woman. I don’t believe we should ever feel entirely actualized as women. Womanhood–and black womanhood, in particular–is an institution that steadily increases in meaning, as society and circumstance dictate.

Where our mothers may leave off, feeling that their work with us is done once we’re adults, poets like Giovanni and Sanchez and Clifton help us to grapple with this exponential meaning. They instruct us that there are endless approaches to black womanhood, countless ways to become influential or strong or wise within our culture. There is no linear track. There is no “proper way” of doing things. There is no truly irredeemable scandal, no truly insular success. We can plant ourselves in the throes of violent, if fleeting revolution. We can sink ourselves in holey ships of love. We can quietly rebel against centuries-old archetypes.

We can be, quite simply, ourselves–even after everyone we know has developed a staid concept of what that might mean. God bless Clifton for teaching me that.