If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree.
I ask, “Who can see this and not see lynchings?”
not because I don’t trust you, dear reader,
or my own abilities. I ask because the imagination
would have us believe, much like faith, faith
the original “Candelabra” lacks, in things unseen.
You should know that human limbs burn
like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees
then setting him on fire, which would jump
from limb to branch like a bastard species
of bird, did we come to know such things.
A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,
8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good
and dead, may someone happen upon the question
in question. May that lucky someone be black
and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be
dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then
call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads.
May her imagination, not her memory, run wild.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who should be happy this time? Who brings cake to whom? Pray the gods do not misquote your covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Ploughshares. Used with permission of the author.
“Hands down, mustard
is the tastiest condiment,” coughed Professor Plum—
his full mouth feigning hunger for the greens-
only sandwiches Mrs. White
laid out for Mr. Boddy’s guests. Miss Scarlet
hadn’t time to peel off her peacoat
before the no-frills food, which she declined, and a pre-cocktail
cocktail, which she accepted. Colonel Mustard
refused all fare, citing the risk of sullying his scarlet
and gold Marine Corps suit, then ate the sugarplums
that happenchanced his pockets like lint. Mrs. White
funneled the motley crew into the green-
house, where Mr. Green
was rumoring—his hand bridging his mouth to Mrs. Peacock’s
ear in an effort to convince the white-
haired heiress that the sandwich-making maidservant must’ve
poisoned their plum
wine. Mr. Boddy’s award-winning scarlet
runners initially amused Miss Scarlet,
the way one is amused by another with the same name. Mr. Green
thought it odd Mr. Boddy didn’t show, told Professor Plum
as much. “Here we are, pretty as peacocks,
and our host is nowhere to be found,” twirling his mustache
like the villain in a silent black and white.
Minutes into the conservatory tour, Mrs. White
introduced Mr. Boddy, who lay facedown in a scarlet-
berried elder. “This man,” Colonel Mustard
said, “is dead. I know death, even when it’s camouflaged by greenery.”
The discovery proved too much for Mrs. Peacock’s
she fainted into the arms of Professor Plum.
When she came to, he appeared to her the way a white
knight would look to a distressed damsel. Semiconscious, Mrs. Peacock
pointed to the deceased’s pet Scarlet
Tanager perched on a lead pipe between the body and a briefcase gushing green-
backs. Right away, Colonel Mustard
mustered up an alibi about admiring Mr. Boddy’s plumerias.
Mr. Green followed suit with his own white-
washed version involving one Miss Scarlet and a misdemeanor plea copped…
“Dinner is served,” said Mrs. White,
inviting Mr. Boddy’s guests by their noms de plume
into the dining room for a precooked
reheated repast. Miss Scarlet
passed the pickings, which didn’t pass muster,
to a rather ravenous Mr. Green.
Nobody faked affability better than Mr. Green,
waving his napkin like a white
flag, acting out the conquered in Colonel Mustard’s
combat stories. Here was Professor Plum’s
chance to charm a certain lady, catching what he called scarlet
fever. “I’ve seen more convincing peacocking
from a tadpole,” quipped Mrs. Peacock,
retiring to the library, green
tea in hand and a tickled Miss Scarlet
in tow. Mr. Boddy’s absence was so brazen it bred white
noise not even tales of exemplum
heroism, narrated by and starring Colonel Mustard,
could quiet—his presence, by all accounts, as keen as mustard
and showy as a pride of peacocks.
Like a boy exiled to his room, Professor Plum
excused himself, giving the others the green
light to do the same. Mrs. White
was in the kitchen scouring skillets
when she heard who she thought was Miss Scarlet
scream. Mr. Boddy’s musty
old library was a crime scene, his final fall on this white-
knuckle ride towards death. “For the dead,” Mrs. Peacock
said, “the grass is greener
on the side of the living.” While plumbing
Mr. Boddy’s body for clues, Professor Plum
found no visible wound—the would-be host appeared scarless,
despite blood haloing his head on the shagreen
rug and a bloodstained candlestick Colonel Mustard
recognized from dinner. Mrs. Peacock
avoided the sight, turning white
as the sheet with which Mrs. White covered the corpse. Plum
sick of the “poppycock” accusations, she sped into the starlit
night in a ragtop mustang belonging to Mr. Green.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The New Sound. Used with permission of the author.
You want me to say who I am and all of that?
What girl gives up an opportunity
to talk about herself? Not I. Not today.
I won’t bore you with my biography—
just a few highlights from my résumé.
I don’t aspire; I’m whom one aspires to.
The most frequently asked question isn’t
WWJD? It’s what would Pepper LaBeija do?
Really the question should be what hasn’t
she done? I’ve been walking now two decades
and got more grand prizes than all the rest.
I hate to brag, but I’m a one-man parade,
Jehovah in drag, the church in a dress.
Outside these walls I may be irrelevant,
but here I’m the Old and the New Testament.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Callaloo. Used with permission of the author.
Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in The Village Voice. Used with permission of the author.