not of my father but shared by him,
a tensing in the eyes towards what
they saw, a thick lining of muscle
in the thought, and in the body
only if one was capable. I failed
every time, was never able to finish
the ten push-ups. Good form
encouraged me to touch the ground
with my chest, to look ahead
and keep my back straight,
but always I bent or gave myself
over, and you had to hold me
by my waist, lower me to the floor
and lift me from it while I shook.
I never asked for any of it, only did it
because you were of the mind to make me.
Your hope was that I become a man,
a strange word I found myself in,
growing as I did as quickly as a shadow
in the lengthening sun, and I became
more solid, both in unearned grief
and stature, my neck a bit thicker
though still as always I’m first to break
a sweat, the first to lose my breath.
You were so much more tender then,
when I was young. Now every image
is a portrait, a feverish focus on your face
and your gaze, of you, of you, of you,
the looker in every sense, haunting eyes
born of haunting, the hard alleys you found
your body in, long days until the streetlights
went on. I search for you, who I’ll fail
to find, my forearm soft against the wood
of the table, since memory is like wind,
always shaped by what it is within.
I want naps as tight as lines,…..horizontal, vertical, and skew—
……….familial…..as the edges of the ensuing
interstices,…..each sect distinct and bleeding,…..a model system
of roots, or branches, abstract and beautiful,…..and filthy—
….denser than a crystal lattice—…..the shadow of a trellis
aslant in a field…..latticework…..openwork…..fretwork…..empty
……….tendril of the wild grape in winter…..before its hanging…..bruise
….of wire…..or smoke,…..the taut vanishing line…..of a sharp
note,…..a wild curving syllabary,…..a series of highwires
….on which your thoughts loose or lose themselves,
these petals, this fresh black growth—
..shards of the raven’s obsidian eye.
After Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song”
I walk through the small square house,
series of inert zones of emotion………………like the husks of buzzards nests or beehives,
never thinking to ask what you’re holding in your sleep.
Your hands are always in my memory of my body
in the sand surrounding my weak heart—
maybe you dream of cutting my hair, hand over fist,
of shearing me, stripping the muscle layer, taking time from me and leaving me silver,
a fat black baby in a bathtub in an old, granular photo.
Once there was a horn in the fog,………………by some sound I could approach you,
you held the world’s density like a marble, let me play with it,
so it might diffuse………………let me know you would never leave me—
close parentheses, I leave the room for the undertone of the hearts beating.
It needs to be said that my mother is white and that I am black. This section is separate so that the section before can maintain its form, the mute suggestion of blank space that is space-from-something. Or distance. Or air. We share genes, yes. Perhaps even genre, too. She has things she says when she’s upset and fears she’s losing me. This happens maybe twice a month. “You can’t use race against me, I’m your mother, those things don’t apply.” The quote was a paraphrase and so should’ve used ‘’ instead of “”. When writing about my mother and father I use a mytho-emotional language, the deep-object, deep-emotion, a language of (some of) the lyric(s). Before object permanence, they suffused my world with what emotions were there. There is a relationship between the depth of emotion in the lyric and the way in which it tunnels into and forgets bi-raciality and class for the sake of music. Other times the race and class determine the emotion, the way one feels scrolling through instagram feeds of organizers against homelessness. If one has a feed to scroll through, if one has… Race and other troubled terms are both the absence (the tunnel) and the meat that they themselves are inside of (). The tunnel is the word and the aperture and what lies between the walls (air and what light is or isn’t there). Imagine the canyon, stubbly, cut by erosion, the daily lick of sometimes pink sunset air, berated by years and heat and rain. Race and class. The writer of this poem was raised mostly by his white family and could have tutors and financial stability. Race and class. So far in this poem they are settling as oil and water. Settling as in separating. My mother feels us separate and solidify, and the only methods she knows for binding are tools of emotion: cry, shout, berate, etc. Apologies are the punctuation. Instability, the grammar. Most nights I try as much as I can to be quiet, but it is not out of tenderness as is suggested by the voice of the speaker in the work above (or for you, the reader). I have found it hard to love someone who tells me, “Do you think it feels good that I can’t bring you into my office to meet my coworkers? It doesn’t bother you? I’d be embarrassed and scared that they’d think I’m a bad mother.” She feels she would be perceived as a bad mother because of my hair. There are many problems with my hair: I don’t have a fine-toothed comb, I don’t know that I have the right care products to ‘reduce frizz’ and strengthen curls. It’s black hair and it is long. All love is conditional. The issue with love in the nuclear family is that this conditionality is constantly denied as it is reinforced. It confuses the ‘loved’ and the ‘lover.’ I don’t think I can live with you like this. The italics are meant to make the words present, to interrupt the present with a present form of the past rather than a present reproduction of it. I don’t know how to ‘make’ this poem about blackness. It is already about blackness. I don’t know how to concentrate this poem on blackness, it is too diffused, it is spreading. For my therapist, race probably seems to be a paranoia. I am a paranoiac concentrate. To her, not all of the comments touch directly on race. I mean, in her eyes, my mother’s feelings about my hair can be seen as something else from a distance, can represent misogyny or poor taste, a lack of love. In this way the blame and the insult are spread, my mother is spared from being called racist. Love has a pupil. The center of the eye is trained on itself, it is learning. I sit and study the night. In some ways the night is a production of blackness. Ideas of blackness. Ideas as blackness. Each idea is a blind spot. In the absence of a certain sight. ‘Crimes’ at night. Intimacy takes place. We are pupils to our own and each other’s bodies. We love each other in whatever form that takes, as we face more slowly the march of time. Blackness is a relief, sleep, the other side of perpetuity, it can be rest. The night has often been my greatest fear and so my greatest opportunity for comfort. My mother let me sleep in her bed until I was ten or eleven. To fear shadows and reflections. No muscle can tame it. No matter how rigid the body, the eye will always train itself on it. Perhaps I am developing. Film. Perhaps I am developed but poorly as with untrained hands. Perhaps I am a film at the moment. Particular, particulate. All over my hands. I’ve left my mother behind. I am dark in the dark of the dark room. Chemicals settle. Blackness is a body constantly dilated. Prepared to be dialed against. Pupil as a density of attention in the absence of light. There’s not much to say about a mother who won’t acknowledge race. She’ll be seen and refuse to see in return.