Not My Ancestors

I, heiress of red embers
the fiercest of which burn the uncareful hand

See my one great grandmother what
had the misfortune of disciplining her husband

who thought he could come upside her
head about something or other.

Without missing a beat, she, damn physics,
wield a cast iron pot against his head.

This same short, blunt arm would nurse
twelve children, the youngest only two years 

before her own death. She willed nothing
but her blood. Stout bodied women

with heavy wants and hands, hearts overripe
and prone to leaking. Mama on my grandmother’s side

held a shotgun aimed to the head of any white man 
come up the road. Papa would greet him with one of his own 

just as unfriendly and kind under her sharp shooting eye.
I’ve never held a loaded gun, too afraid I might

turn it on myself. They had Jesus and a wood
burning stove. What do I know about protecting

any body particularly my own? Things inherited,
things learnt, may singed palms pitch to know.

on empathy

what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.

~

the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.

~

you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.

~

it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.

~

you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.

Related Poems

Field Notes on Beginning

1. 

I wear my grandmother’s bones like a housedress through the city. 
Some nights the block tells me all its problems. 
I’ll meet you at the top of the biggest rock in Rolesville 
or on train headed to a reading in Queens, just tell me where. I promise 
to gather your bones only for good. 
I was not swallowed by the darkness between two buildings. 
I don’t want to die in the south like so many of mine. I want to be carried back. 

2. 

I dreamed we were digging in a field in Rolesville 
looking for an earth we knew the name of. 
You stepped into the hole, looked behind you and gestured me in. 
I saw every lover who held you while your children slept 
in rooms of small heaters, you wrap the blankets so tight, 
afraid of any cold that might get in. 

3. 

I said my goodbyes, my dead will not come. I will not see a cardinal in the city 
so I drew one on my chest. A coop inside a coop inside of me. 
Leaving is necessary some say. There is a whole ocean between you and a home 
you can’t fix your tongue to speak. Others do not want me 
no further than a length of a small yard, they ask where are you going Tyree? 
Your mama here, you’ve got stars in your eyes. A ship in your movement.

Rememory

           is the sound of me thinking
in a language stolen from my
ancestors. I can’t tell you who the
first slave in my family was, but we
are the last. Descendants
of the sun. Rye skinned
and vibrant, wailing to
a sailing tomb. We twist
creoled tongues. Make English
a song worth singing. You erase
our history and call it freedom.
Take our flesh and call it fashion.
Swallow nations and call it
humanity. We so savage
we let you live. 
           I can’t tell you who the first slave
in my family was, but we remember
the bodies.   Our bodies remember.
We are their favorite melody. Beat
into bucket. Broken
into cardboard covered
concrete. Shaken
into Harlem. The getting over
never begins, but there
is always the get down. Our DNA
sheet music humming
at the bottom
of the ocean.