My body has a legend, he says
midstory, and wipes his mouth.
Then, as to recite grace,
stands at the table to prove it.
Beneath the drape of his shirt
a savanna of skin ripples slightly.
For a blink, i don’t understand
He had no belly button,
his stomach paved mythologically clean.
We’d been so casual
playing catch with origin stories
over crepes and pancakes,
our roll call of scars.
We’d been speaking of doctors and mistakes
when his face shifted gears,
he landed his fork like tapping a baton.
This is how boys are. Show
and prove. Tale of the tape.
People are terrified by skin
not meeting their expectations.
For years, white women were forbidden
from showing their navels on TV.
The networks were alarmed
over what they symbolized,
how they seemed to prove something,
root us together.
Seeing the placenta as nebula
a star-field skin
a chandelier from which
we’re all suspended
flaring out from the same light.
If men can write shame laws over belly buttons
it’s no surprise the fumbling
of a Black child
steaming new and helpless
in a cage of fingers.
A rabbit midwifed by a hawk.
I know this now.
Yet, how I doubted him, Lord.
My sticky, maple fingers trembled in prayer all night.
From Martian: The Saint of Loneliness. Copyright © 2022 by James Cagney. Published by Nomadic Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.