after Wanda Coleman

Ms. Birdsong what a beautiful last 
Ms. Birdsong are you the head of your 
Ms. Birdsong your total today comes to 
Ms. Birdsong your insurance will only cover
Ms. Birdsong can you please step out of 
Ms. Birdsong your test results are back and
Ms. Birdsong I am going to refer you
Ms. Birdsong thanks for your recent donation but
Ms. Birdsong you have been randomly selected for
Ms. Birdsong unfortunately you were not chosen
Ms. Birdsong I am calling about your past due
Ms. Birdsong do you really have a Ph.—
Destiny what a beautiful first 
Destiny are you related to someone
Destiny I can’t remember if that’s a wig but
Destiny if you’re not too busy I 
Destiny you are never on time for 
Destiny I’m not ready for a serious
Destiny I really need to ask if
Destiny this time I promise I
Destiny well I’m sorry if you felt like 
Destiny don’t hold your breath because 
                                             [Destiny, they will kill you and say you—] 
Destiny when will you be coming

​​I Go Back to Myself, April 2014

And every time, I say this is the last time, now

that we know what travel can grift from the body.

She is naked as I am now, but drunk. In bed.

The place dark, the bamboo blinds like split brooms.

A few weeks before, he’d slipped in using his key,

skittered the dog waiting at the top of the stairs,

watered the mums he’d left on the counter,

put away the wine. He doesn’t mention

coming to the room and she can’t remember.

But this night, every courtesy is whittled

to her littlest part, its radical pink, for once,

indistinguishable from everything: darkness;

his shirt; singed mothwings splayed

on the lampshade like pencil shavings;

wet receipts stuck to the bottom of the vase.

Persephone emerged each spring with the inventory

of her kingdom still clinging to her ankles,

and there were whispers that she grew to love

what we never wanted: swollen Easter fruit, 

its uninvited flesh blue as the vein

bisecting the corridor of my inner thigh.

Each time I go back, I want to sit

with the body. I want to say, “One day you’ll fold

into nights devoid of liquor and lose the taste.

Your joints will ache; your body will try to leave

in ways only your ancestors understand.”

I never think to tell him, “Stop”; tell her “Wake up.”

She’s still afraid of other women, endings, and the dead.

And so I leave, but with the door ajar

as if to say, “Beloved, what has happened

to me shouldn’t happen to you. But until

it does, there is nothing I can tell you.”

Related Poems

Oughta Be a Woman

Washing the floors to send you to college
Staying at home so you can feel safe
What do you think is the soul of her knowledge
What do you think that makes her feel safe

Biting her lips and lowering her eyes
To make sure there's food on the table
What do you think would be her surprise
If the world was as willing as she's able

Hugging herself in an old kitchen chair
She listens to your hurt and your rage
What do you think she knows of despair
What is the aching of age

The fathers, the children, the brothers
Turn to her and everybody white turns to her
What about her turning around
Alone in the everyday light

There oughta be a woman can break
Down, sit down, break down, sit down
Like everybody else call it quits on Mondays
Blues on Tuesdays, sleep until Sunday
Down, sit down, break down, sit down

A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Courage that cries out at night
A way outa no way is flesh outa flesh
Bravery kept outa sight
A way outa no way is too much to ask
Too much of a task for any one woman

The Ballad of Cathay Williams William Cathay

A white man wouldn't less

He stripped me naked was

Whipping me know

I was a woman     got

A name just turn

It inside out

And I'm a man

How else I'm gonna know myself

When I am called

A white man wouldn't twice I had

Smallpox twice after     I enlisted

twice and had / To be

hospitalized both times

Ain't never once

no doctor nor no nurse

Discovered me

No for no white woman

I wouldn't have

nothing for her to see

She would want me to know she seen

And I was watching close

How else I'm gone to know myself

When I am called

And what she see is anyway

how is she gonna know for sure

Black man ain't got

a hole down there

How is she know he ain't

A white man born wrong inside out

and twice as big and mean

And got a hole go twice as deep to hell

How is that woman sure

of anything at all

How else I'm etc

American Sonnet (35)

boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this
umpteenth time she returns—this invisible woman
long on haunting short on ectoplasm

"you're a good man, sistuh," a lover sighed solongago.
"keep your oil slick and your motor running."

wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of
fractured webbings like nests of manic spiders
reflect her ruined mien (rue wiggles remorse
squiggles woe jiggles bestride her). oozy Manes spill
out yonder spooling in night's lofty hour exudes
her gloom and spew in rankling odor of heady dour

as she strives to retrieve flesh to cloak her bones
again to thrive to keep her poisoned id alive

usta be young usta be gifted—still black