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Airea D. Matthews

Airea D. Matthews is the author of Simulacra (Yale University Press, 2017), selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets. Matthews received an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. A Cave Canem Fellow and a Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, Matthews is a founding member of the Riven collective along with Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela and Cynthia Dewi Oka. She is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College, and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By This Poet

4

Confessions From Here

I left our window open most nights.  A man with winged ankles would visit while you slept. He'd ask about my doings, how the syrah finished, noticed the dimple on my chin when I smiled, touched the thick swell of my waist, lightly. When the wind whistled like the Northeast Corridor, he'd tongue the small of my back before leaving. After 2 most mornings. I wailed a tempest that last time. Flooded our basement. Asked him to stay or carry me over. He tucked me in the crook of his elbow and flew here. Where I am now.

When you woke the next morning, I imagine you thought it rained the night before. You called the plumber, didn't you?  To fix the basement, swollen from squalls?  Did you dig your fingernail under the blistering cinder? Check for mold? Did the walls crumble?  When you asked the children where their mother was? Did they shrug? Bounce my name between rooms? Weep into their porridge? If they beat their bare feet against the cracked tiles in the hallway, did you notice those tiny feathers sprouting from their Achilles?  Did you wrinkle your brow? Grab your shears?

Temptation of the Composer

Oh Shepherd, our honeyed marriage
          bed in the meadow was too narrow
and though you herd wild things,
          you were deaf to my footsteps.
As you lay there in the dew of me, curled,
          satiated, I tiptoed backwards
toward our door under twisted reeds.
          Out where pasture led to brackish
waters and red-hot mists rose from quartz
          I lowered myself into rockpores
while rushing wings of screech owls
           seemed to sing: Welcome, Dark-Light
                                             Welcome, Wild-Love

Home

                         Home

                                                   Away

etymology

because my mother named me after a child     borne still

to a godmother I’ve never met     I took another way to be

known—something easier to remember          inevitable

to forget         something that rolls over the surface of thrush

     because                                                 I grew tired of saying

            no it’s pronounced…   now I’m tired of not

conjuring that ghost I honor            say it with me:        Airea

                          rhymes with sarah

sarah from the latin meaning          a “woman of high rank”

       which also means whenever I ask anyone to hold me

in their mouth             I sound like what I almost am

hear me out:                          I’m not a dee             or a river

     charging through working-class towns where union folk

cogwedge for plots                &          barely any house at all

where bosses mangle ethnic phonemes & nobody says one

    word because checks in the mail             so let’s end this

                 classist pretend where names don’t matter

& language is too heavy a lift                       my “e” is silent

like most people should be              the consonant is sonorant

              is a Black woman                  or one might say the spine

       I translate to ‘wind’ in a country known for its iron

imply “lioness of God”                                   in Jesus’ tongue

            mean “apex predator”           free of known enemy

fierce enough         to harm              or fast enough to run

                          all I’m saying is                  this:

the tongue has no wings     to flee what syllables it fears

the mouth is no womb             has no right to swallow up

                                     what it did not make