Certificate of Live Birth

You arrive on a Friday, with hail & vast
moving grey above small window
of white light, as a wound
which might be a passing through
of particulate ultra violet waiting
to arrive in sight, our adjectival
see. will it be violent, our photographic
ring around the light?

we inviolate what we can’t see,
revelate its arrival with our question:
boy or girl?

please, let the unseen speak in me.
there are stellar nurseries we cannot grimace.
i am a certificate of a bright somewhere.
you are a poem passing through
the membranes i have moved, mountainous you,
head up-of the interrogative blue

where all, we flowers

where all with flowers your first bloody lips
in grass from garden backyard toy chest hours
the thing is wrath epitaph sepulchral thirst look
Chesapeake look lord Baltimore ma
her Sunday word slammed closed inside you
you the girl who doesn’t get barrettes
no bowl of braids heads down the stairs ma is
a long well away night air flotsam winter
granny mama sees you she lingers in light
saint like above up lets your legs toddle alone
travel steps abaloneously you are slipping already
out of mother harbor baby blue your body
whorl struck by every knuckle ma ma ma
no daughter of pearl

Related Poems

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God's boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory,
nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.

Center of the World

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring.

etymology

because my mother named me after a child     borne still

to a godmother I’ve never met     I took another way to be

known—something easier to remember          inevitable

to forget         something that rolls over the surface of thrush

     because                                                 I grew tired of saying

            no it’s pronounced…   now I’m tired of not

conjuring that ghost I honor            say it with me:        Airea

                          rhymes with sarah

sarah from the latin meaning          a “woman of high rank”

       which also means whenever I ask anyone to hold me

in their mouth             I sound like what I almost am

hear me out:                          I’m not a dee             or a river

     charging through working-class towns where union folk

cogwedge for plots                &          barely any house at all

where bosses mangle ethnic phonemes & nobody says one

    word because checks in the mail             so let’s end this

                 classist pretend where names don’t matter

& language is too heavy a lift                       my “e” is silent

like most people should be              the consonant is sonorant

              is a Black woman                  or one might say the spine

       I translate to ‘wind’ in a country known for its iron

imply “lioness of God”                                   in Jesus’ tongue

            mean “apex predator”           free of known enemy

fierce enough         to harm              or fast enough to run

                          all I’m saying is                  this:

the tongue has no wings     to flee what syllables it fears

the mouth is no womb             has no right to swallow up

                                     what it did not make