paper dolls (for darnell arnoult)

it is the joy of tomato sandwiches
the smell of jergens and jean nate
at thirteen
or our love still for grandmothers aunts
who enter rooms
largely sideways
hips broad enough
to use as sideboards
maybe it is the value
we place on duke’s mayonnaise
the sandwich spread for queens…

whatever wherever and for ever more
we are little girls
revisiting space
rebuilding houses
renaming mothers…

perhaps it is the secret
knotted inside the pleats of skirt hems
sewn along scarf edges
fringed secret whispers
that whisper a familiar smell…

whatever we become
stealing a moment
to cast word spells
undress our mothers
repaint their lips with anything red anything Italian
drench their heads with ancient clairol wisdom
anoint their hands with herstorical bronze
queen of the nile henna…

we reembrace
full petticoats
white linen skirts
sailor dresses
patent leather

for the pretty pirates
we will become…

perfumed necks
wrists adorned
in vintage memory
cut carefully
along the edges
of this madness
this magic…

we lie down
and wait for the moon
to trace us.

a litany for the possessed

cultural whoremongers

appear on MTV

disguised dapper fresh

as third day bleached linens

from a sun not raised

on cotton indigo or gold


shaking singing ringing

baking dipping gliding

stomping sliding prancing

be-bopping dancing praising 

hip-hopping slipping slurping

belching fucking


grave pirates

sucking on the bones

of spirit prophets

malcolm ray miles

martin charlie

eldridge audre denmark

sojourner frederick countee

nat langston zora

louie richard nell

mahalia billie bessie

marcus gwendolyn

kwame toussaint mohammad


kente tie-dyed

refried batiked bleached

mudclothed dreaded blonded

matted twisted reddened

curled permed blackened greened



swords of quran bible torah


lies death deceit disgrace


juneteenth blood bones

sipping on holy water

that runs backwards

cultural whoremongers

holding hostage

prayers altars crosses

allah-hu akbar






addicts with poems

stuck between their teeth

join the night

pray for a vampirical moon

bootleg poems

sold beside remixed coltrane

rinsed out aretha sonnets


poets posing as undertakers

slip nip tuck drain

splinter irrigate protract

stitch catheterize graft

skin to word skin to history

skin to lies skin to truth

skin to battlefields in algiers

iraq vietnam korea somalia

johannesburg selma brooklyn

compton queens atlanta richmond

detroit afganistan


poets posing as seamstresses

sew faces sew teeth sew wombs

sew laughter sew tears sew regret

sew joy sew uprising sew anthems

sew constitutions sew treaties sew bombs

sew graves sew babies


brothas on the down low

sniffing for game

while sistas play

diva bohemian princess

sable goddess queen mother

high priestess of counterfeit

on a corner

that becomes continent

sahara amazon latin kurdish


the new immigrants

learn to walk


become invisible

eat fire

twist glass


flat joins round

night forgets that

day is his true sister

rivers forget to open to skies

freedom is exposed raw naked

unadorned unnamed


cultural whoremongers

dressed up as words

metaphors preludes


die alone

under skies that rant

retrace the scorn

theft murder

lynching of

a fallen muse

st. croix mornings

the beach at sunrise

raises its skirts

like a drunken pigeon


i raise my eyes awake

behind armored gates

somewhere deep in frederiksted

inside dark rooms

that shroud my skin

in the colors

of an evening gone bad


bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red


dark nameless woman

washed ashore

skin seared

like an eclipse

out of season


warm water

nips under my


seeps into my skin


and the ocean whispers


stay close

stay close


i strut red feathers like a pagan god

open my house boldly

invite sun and waves to crush my wings

rape this serenity


bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red


i surrender

to the messages in the sky

on the waves



i eat my own blood

reach quietly inside the water

gather all of me

alongside myself


and the ocean whispers


stay close

stay close


an earlier version

of sunrise

teases the curtains

teases the whiteness of sheets

that gather around my ankles

that remind my feet to breathe


an earlier version

of sunrise

sits cross-legged

holds thunder

captive under skirts


that deny

full moons

that deny

seasons  of fire

thy deny

births and names 


st croix mornings

gaze back at me

through the eyes

of my daughter

remind me

of other madnesses

other unnamed seeds


the madness of the sky

the madness of a woman

who refuses to


stay close

stay close

who will be the messenger of this land

who will be the messenger of this land
count its veins
speak through the veins
translate the language of water
navigate the heels of lineage
who will carry this land in parcels
paper, linen, burlap
who will weep when it bleeds
and hardens
forgets to birth itself

who will be the messenger of this land
wrapping its stories carefully
in patois of creole, irish,
gullah, twe, tuscarora
stripping its trees for tea
and pleasure
who will help this land to
remember its birthdays, baptisms
weddings, funerals, its rituals
denials, disappointments
and sacrifices

who will be the messengers
of this land
harvesting its truths
bearing unleavened bread
burying mutilated crops beneath
its breasts

who will remember
to unbury the unborn seeds
that arrived
in captivity
shackled, folded,
bent, layered in its

we are their messengers
with singing hoes
and dancing plows
with fingers that snap
beans, arms that
raise corn, feet that
cover the dew falling from
okra, beans, tomatoes

we are these messengers
whose ears alone choose
which spices
whose eyes alone name
basil, nutmeg, fennel, ginger,
cardamom, sassafras
whose tongues alone carry
hemlock, blood root, valerian,
damiana, st. john’s wort
these roots that contain
its pleasures its languages its secrets

we are the messengers
new messengers
arriving as mutations of ourselves
we are these messengers
blue breath
red hands
singing a tree into dance