My mother never forgave my father for killing himself, especially at such an awkward time and in a public park, that spring when I was waiting to be born. She locked his name in her deepest cabinet and would not let him out, though I could hear him thumping. When I came down from the attic with the pastel portrait in my hand of a long-lipped stranger with a brave moustache and deep brown level eyes, she ripped it into shreds without a single word and slapped me hard. In my sixty-fourth year I can feel my cheek still burning.
Every time I open my mouth my teeth reveal
more than I mean to. I can’t stop tonguing them, my teeth.
Almost giddy to know they’re still there (my mother lost hers)
but I am embarrassed nonetheless that even they aren’t
pretty. Still, I did once like my voice, the way it moved
through the gap in my teeth like birdsong in the morning,
like the slow swirl of a creek at dusk. Just yesterday
a woman closed her eyes as I read aloud, and
said she wanted to sleep in the sound of it, my voice.
I can still sing some. Early cancer didn’t stop the compulsion
to sing but
there’s gravel now. An undercurrent
that also reveals me. Time and disaster. A heavy landslide
down the mountain. When you stopped speaking to me
what you really wanted was for me to stop speaking to you. To
stifle the sound of my voice. I know.
Didn’t want the quicksilver of it in your ear.
What does it mean
to silence another? It means I ruminate on the hit
of rain against the tin roof of childhood, how I could listen
all day until the water rusted its way in. And there I was
putting a pan over here and a pot over there to catch it.
Copyright © 2017 by Vievee Francis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
There are no angels yet
here comes an angel one
with a man's face young
shut-off the dark
side of the moon turning to me
and saying: I am the plumed
serpent the beast
with fangs of fire and a gentle
But he doesn't say that His message
drenches his body
he'd want to kill me
for using words to name him
I sit in the bare apartment
words stream past me poetry
disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds
reflecting wrinkled neon
but clogged and mostly
nothing alive left
in their depths
The angel is barely
speaking to me
Once in a horn of light
he stood or someone like him
salutations in gold-leaf
ribboning from his lips
Today again the hair streams
to his shoulders
the eyes reflect something
like a lost country or so I think
but the ribbon has reeled itself
he isn't giving
or taking any shit
We glance miserably
across the room at each other
It's true there are moments
closer and closer together
when words stick in my throat
'the art of love'
'the art of words'
I get your message Gabriel
just will you stay looking
straight at me
"Gabriel." Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1969 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, from Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 by Adrienne Rich. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.