Inheritance

What have I

To say in my wrong tongue

Of what is gone   To know something is

Lost but what   You have forgotten what

You long forgot   If I am 

What survives   I am here but I am not

Much of anything at all   To be what’s left 

And all the rest scooped out 

And dropped into the sea   My flesh

Forming a knot on itself is a habit

Learned from whom   A mind reaching back

Into the dark a body releasing itself

Backward into space a faith

I have no prayer in which to keep

Am I home or merely caught

Between two unmarked graves

I’m saying where we live

 It’s a mistake   A compromise 

I’m made to make   

I’m told come willingly 

Halfway across a bridge to where

I’m halfway human   Or else 

A door bricked over 

Behind which all I am   

To be shadow cast by shadows cast

By no one’s hand   And now

Whose fault am I   It’s said 

I stand against the grain

Of natural law   A being in chaos

In argument with itself   What would it be

To be simply   I am here but what of me 

That’s gone stays gone

 

More by Camille Rankine

Aubade

They say brave but I don’t want it.
Who will we mourn today. Or won’t we.

Black all the windows. Lower
down the afternoon. I barricade

all my belonging. I am mostly never real
American or anything

availing. But I do take. And take
what’s given. The smell of blood.

I breathe it in. The dirt so thick with our good
fortune. And who pays for it. And what am I

but fear, but wanting. I’ll bite
the feeding hand until I’m fed

and buried. In the shining day.
All deadly good

intentions. A catalogue of virtues.
This is how I’ll disappear.

Forecast

I twist myself into a knot
the day pulls taut.

I am what I am
told. Good red meat

gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin

a perfect evening. It’s the way
the weather wears me.

A cold, blank day. My blood-
burned fingers. A white noise

swelling in me. It’s nothing
but night now. That’s how

all the days end. An hour
glistens in its glass case, turns

rancid in my memory.
Another day, another

dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older

if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.

My sad heart in its excess.
Such petty injury. I am worn

against the weather. Limp and prone
to empty.

What came before this.
I can’t remember.

I dress for all the lives I want
behind me. I have come here

to make seen the day
I see. I fall from focus.

The day goes sour. It asks me
nothing. It asks nothing of me.

Related Poems

Hands

Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
This smell of ocean may never leave me;
our humble life or the sea a dark page

I am trying to turn: Today my mother’s words
sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
Her hands have not been her hands

since she was twelve,
motherless and shucking whatever the sea
could offer, each day orphaned in the tide

of her own necessity—where the men-o-war
ballooned, wearing her face, her anchor of a heart
reaching, mooring for any blasted thing:

sea-roach and black-haired kelp, jeweled perch
or a drop of pearl made with her smallest self,
her night-prayers a hushed word of thanks.

But out here the salt-depths refuse tragedy.
This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic—
here what was cannibal masters the colonial

curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,

trying to remember the face of her own mother,
our island or some strange word she once found
amongst the filth of sailors whose beds she made,

whose shoes she shined, whose guns
she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
ricocheted in her brain. Still that face she can’t recall

made her chew her fingernails, scratch the day down
to its blood, the rusty sunset of this wonder,
this smashed archipelago. Our wild sea-grape kingdom

overrun, gold and belonging in all its glory
to no one. How being twelve-fingered she took her father’s
fishing line to the deviation, and starved

of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
askance and blooming, reminding her

that she was still woman                    always multiplying
as life’s little nubs and dreams came bucking up
in her disjointed. How on the god-teeth

she cut this life, offered her hands and vessel
to be made wide, made purposeful,
her body opalescent with all our clamoring,

our bloodline of what once lived
and will live and live again.
In the sea’s one voice she hears her answer.

Beneath her gravid belly
my gliding hull
a conger eel.

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people
Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage
Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

A writing utensil, and a bottomless Saturday. We should explore
The origins of a derogatory word like spade as well as the word
For feeling alone in polite company. And also the implications
Of calling someone who is not your brother or sister,

Brother or Sister. So little is known of our past, we can imagine
Damn near anything. When I say maybe slaves held Spades
Tournaments on the anti-cruise ships bound for the Colonies,
You say when our ancestors were cooped on those ships

They were not yet slaves. Our groundbreaking film should begin
With a low-lit den in the Deep South and the deep fried voice
Of somebody’s grandmother holding smoke in her mouth
As she says, “The two of Diamonds trumps the two of Spades

In my house.” And at some point someone should tell the story
Where Jesus and the devil are Spades partners traveling
The juke joints of the 1930s. We could interview my uncle Junior
And definitely your skinny cousin Mary and any black man

Sitting at a card table wearing shades. Who do you suppose
Would win if Booker T and MLK were matched against Du Bois
And Malcolm X in a game of Spades? You say don’t talk
Across the table. Pay attention to the suits being played.

The object of the game is to communicate invisibly
With your teammate. I should concentrate. Do you suppose
We are here because we are lonely in some acute diasporafied
Way? This should be explored in our film about Spades.

Because it is one of the ways I am still learning what it is
To be black, tonight I am ready to master Spades. Four players
Bid a number of books. Each team adds the bids
Of the two partners, and the total is the number of books

That team must try to win. Is that not right? This is a game
That tests the boundary between mathematics and magic,
If you ask me. A bid must be intuitive like the itchiness
Of the your upper lip before you sip strange whiskey.

My mother did not drink, which is how I knew something
Was wrong with her, but she held a dry spot at the table
When couples came to play. It’s a scene from my history,
But this probably should not be mentioned in our documentary

About Spades. Renege is akin to the word for the shame
You feel watching someone else’s humiliation. Slapping
A card down must be as dramatic as hitting the face of a drum
With your palm, not hitting the face of a drum with a drumstick.

You say there may be the sort of outrage induced
By liquor, trash talk, and poor strategy, but it will fade
The way a watermark left on a table by a cold glass fades.
I suspect winning this sort of game makes you feel godly.

I’m good and ready for who ever we’re playing
Against tonight. I am trying to imagine our enemy.
I know you are not my enemy. You say there are no enemies
In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.

Mercy

the war speaks at night
with its lips of shredded children,
with its brow of plastique
and its fighter jet breath,
and then it speaks at daybreak
with the soft slur of money
unfolding leaf upon leaf.
it speaks between the news
programs in the music
of commercials, then sings
in the voices of a national anthem.
it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,
it has a hand of many lost hands,
a palm of missing fingers,
the stump of an arm that it lost
reaching up to heaven, a foot
that digs a trench for its dead.
the war staggers forward,
compelled, inexorable, ticking.
it looks to me
with its one eye of napalm
and one eye of ice,
with its hair of fire
and its nuclear heart,
and yes, it is so human
and so pitiful as it stands there,
waiting for my hand.
it wants to know my answer.
it wants to know how i intend
to show it out of its misery,
and i only want it
to teach me how to kill.