I remember the boys & their open hands. High fives

of farewell. I remember that the birches waved too,

the white jagged limbs turning away from incessant wildfires.

 

The future wavered, unlike a question, unlike

a hand or headstone. The future moved & the fields already knew it.

 

I remember the war of the alphabet, its ears sliced from its face. I

know that language asks for blood.

 

The children of kudzu, lilac, the spit of unknown rivers. I remember the jury

& the judge of the people. The buckshot that blew

the morning’s torso into smoke.

 

That last morning I begged the grandmothers to leave their rage next to red candles

& worn photographs of their children & their blue-eyed grandson

with his bleeding heart. The savior bled flowers.

 

I scattered the stones the trees bore. Gray vultures came for my children.

They knew the old country better than me. They broke through

skyscrapers & devoured both villain & hero.

 

& boys were pouring, wanted & unwanted & missing yet from the long mouth

where their voices were forced to say they were nothing. But they were men, invisible

& native & guilty beyond their glottal doubt.

 

I remember calling out to the savage field where more boys knelt & swung

through the air. I remember how their eyes rolled back

in blood, milk, & gasoline. Their white teeth

chewing cotton into shrouds, scars & sheets.

 

They gave me their last words. They gave me smiles for their fathers.

They slept in my arms, dead & bruised. Long as brambles.

 

The bullets in their heads & groins

quieting like a day. The meat of nothing.

 

I held their million heads in my lap when the bodies were taken away.

I don’t know if what’s left will dance or burn.

I wash their eyelids with mint.

But let God beg pardon to them & their mothers

 

& I don’t know if the body is a pendulum of where love cannot go

when the tongue is swollen with the milk of black boys.

I pulled their lives from the trees & lawns & schools.

The unlit houses & the river. Their forewings wet

with clouds

 

& screaming. I won’t leave them,

huddled like bulls inside the stall of a word. I am the shriek,

the suture, the petal

shook loose from their silence.

More by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Verguenza

Woman, I wish I didn't know your name.  
What could you be? Silence in my house 
& the front yard where the dogwood 
wouldn't make up its mind about flowers. 
Aren't you Nature? A stem cringing, half-
shadowed beneath a torque of rain. 
I too am leaving. I too am half-spun. 
The other day near the river
I bent down & Narcissus 
turned his immaculate mouth
away, refusing to caress
my howls. Silence in the trees
all around the shotgun house & that scent
of cedar whenever I dream.
I turn the light around on the ground, 
sweeping the red mud, holding 
the light like a rattler. Like a hood of 
poison, fitted over my face. Cobra 
woman, slicked with copperhead flutes. 
I too am fleeing. My face born
in a caul of music. Bravado.
The men come into the yard 
& pull all my clothes off, 
walk me into the house, 
into my own kitchen. 
Tell me not to say
say I'm wrong.