A Louder Thing

         for Kenneka Jenkins and her mother

What is it about my mother’s face, a bright burn
when I think back, her teeth, her immaculate teeth

that I seldom saw or knew, her hair like braided
black liquorice. I am thinking of my mother’s face,

because she is like the mother in the news whose
daughter was found dead, frozen inside a hotel freezer.

My mother is this mourning mother who begged
the staff to search for her daughter, but was denied.

Black mothers are often seen pleading for their children,
shown stern and wailing, held back somehow by police

or caution tape—

a black mother just wants to see her baby’s body.
a black mother just wants to cover her baby’s body

with a sheet on the street. A black mother
leaves the coffin open for all the world to see,

and my mother is no different. She is worried
about seeing the last minutes of me: pre-ghost,

stumbling alone through empty hotel hallways
failing to find balance, searching for a friend,

a center, anyone, to help me home. Yes.
I’ve gotten into a van with strangers.

I’ve taken drugs with people that did not care
how hard or fast I smoked or blew.

But what did I know of Hayden? What did I know
of that poem besides my mother’s hands, her fist,

her prayers and premonitions? What did I know
of her disembodied voice hovering over the seams

of my life like the vatic song the whip-poor-will
makes when it can sense a soul dispersing?

Still. My mother wants to know where I am,
who I am with, and when will I land.

I get frustrated by her insistence on my safety
and survival. What a shame I am. I’m sorry, mom.

Some say Black love is different. Once,
I asked my mother why she always yelled

at me when I was little. She said I never listened
to her when she spoke to me in hushed tones

like a white mother would, meaning soft volume
is a privilege. Yeah, that’s right. I am using a stereotype

to say a louder thing. I am saying my mother
was screaming when she lost me in the mall once.

I keep hearing that voice everywhere I go.
I follow my name. The music of her rage sustains me.

More by Tiana Clark

800 Days: Libation

after not wanting to watch “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” on Spike TV

It rained inside me
it is raining inside my neck
the rain falls in sheets inside long sheets inside
all the rain is falling inside collapsing spit
I don’t want to watch another black man die
today or know the story of how he died today
or how he was thrown away or how he ended up
I don’t want to study the rain from inside
the house or overhear wild rain swell & thicken
slap the roof with wet words       & Kalief 
who was there when you stopped
being & who was there when you were alone
& beyond yourself     how
the water around you from the island around you
might have sounded like a chorus    who was there
who was there      who was there  & now everyone
is watching your life from inside but I’m afraid to watch
them beat you    watch torture throbbing dry & long
with ache & blue-black bruising                so I don’t
& another black body is blown out      smoking wick
the lone wisp of a life lingers smelling burnt & gone
how rain wraps round a tornado is a type of sorrow
because no one knows how to fathom damage inside
someone’s eyes could be the weather just after or before
a storm         calm & clear but still bleaker inside the black
parts of the pupils the holes smooth black holes in the eyes
as they left you in the hole with no rain      & I’m emptying
a waterfall shouting                       KALIEF
I want you to be undead & not alone      lonely in the ground  
again     I want I want (the “I” wants so much) how it greeds 
like a fist      of pounding rain on your body bleating broke
but what I want doesn’t matter what I want are rare blossoms
for the dead      because you’re gone & your mother is gone
all because someone said you stole a backpack meaning
your body was made a forgotten altar your body made bodiless
kept pushing back as your trial kept pushing back & back &
black matter moves backwards in time meaning    Kalief matters
in the past tense even though the space around your life didn’t
matter to them   or them   or them    like the space that scatters
& navigates around the circumference of raindrops is never wet
& the braided distance between you & me  is dry & long
like time is rainless with a tight & loaded lungful blowing 800
candles out for the 800 days in solitary your brain behind bars
fades your body in confinement your chest caged alone
your body alone   all    I     hear         is your name falling
& beating    Kalief      Kalief      Kalief Kalief Kalief
this is such a poor offering but I am pouring it on the ground
like good rain & whatever softens the earth is your name
whatever might grow from that darkening bright spot is your name
lapping little lakes of creation turning mud in your name
whatever might be fed from the liquid raining inside me
whatever might be loosened from the muck & the dark
rum pouring from my bottle    & Kalief    your name     is drizzling
a type of grief upon my mouth like mist as it reigns
inside me it is raining inside my body the rain falls in sheets
inside all the rain is untangled & not touching
who touched you with tenderness falling inside   
                                                                                          & Kalief  
what is there to say
after so much rain?

                                  The ground is swollen with your name…

Conversation with Phillis Wheatley #2

Tell me about your baptism she asked.

I rose out of the water, a caught fish—slippery,
gaping for breath, brand new with righteousness.

I walked down to the frothing whirlpool,
Pastor Lonnie—a white man in a white robe,

extended his hands and helped me down the steps.
The congregation watched as I answered his questions:

Yes. Yes. Yes. Jacuzzi-warm water gurgled and spun
as his white robe spread around my little circumference,

holy creamer. He put his hand on my nose, pinched
my breath. I did not close my eyes as he buried me

under the water—under the water I heard muffled
shouting, under the water I saw Pastor Lonnie's face

ripple in thirds. He tipped my body back, lifted me up
and out from the wet coffin to the defeaning resound

of clapping and yelling from the church. My hair back
to curls, my face like the face of my birth when I was

cut from my mother—terrified and ready to scream.

Cross/Bite

                                                 I was born into this world sideways.
                                 Doctor said,
                                                 surgery, to break my face
                           set it right again
                                                 as if breaking were simple.
      Wet places my lips have been:
                                                 all the boys I've kissed—
             so many caves I've licked
                                                 saliva & sweat
            holy water on my tongue.
                                                 I grind my teeth at night
wake to white sand in my mouth:
                                                 nocturnal silt, gritty loam.
              My jaws pop when I talk
                                                 but if I had the surgery, went cosmetic?
Oh, the typewriter in my bones—
                                                  yes, I would miss that click/clack the most.

Related Poems

the bullet was a girl

the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet

was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin

was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it— 

must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black

with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes

they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body

to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame

why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed