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.

26

Your names toll in my dreams.
I pick up tinsel in the street. A nameless god
streaks my hand with blood. I look at the lighted trees
in windows & the spindles of pine tremble
in warm rooms. The flesh of home, silent.
How quiet the bells of heaven must be, cold
with stars who cannot rhyme their brilliance
to our weapons. What rouses our lives each moment?
Nothing but life dares dying. My memory, another obituary.
My memory is a cross. Face down. A whistle in high grass.
A shadow pouring down the sill of calamity.
Your names wake me in the nearly dark hour.
The candles in our windows flicker
where your faces peer in, ask us
questions light cannot answer.