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Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown is the author of Sister (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018) and Fanny Says (BOA Editions, 2015). She teaches at the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program and the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

By This Poet

4

Black bird, red wing

So this is where the last year 
of the Mayan calendar begins—
5,000 birds falling on Beebe, 
Arkansas, a state that could smooth 
out with the sway of the plains 
but instead sputters the silence 
of the first syllable like a pothole 
that hits before you're off the 
on ramp—say it—
ar-    
           -can-saw—
ending with that blade 
of rusted teeth to chew 
through the last of what's left 
of those woods, a fast-driving 
diesel flatbed of felled trees 
and all of us in a tight spot 
between that chugging machine 
and the concrete barrier 
as we hope the straight back 
of our consonants will 
hold, even if they are quiescent 
monsters, reticent prayers, 
because we can't help it, we lean 
towards letters that do not bend, 
try our exhausted weight 
on the middle of that state, 
that silent K—the shape of a man 
trying to hold up the ceiling, 
trying not to think 
of its falling 
as the sky's.

For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
           but chose a scent—a signature—every day
                      you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
                                 notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
           who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
                      husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
                                 the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
           a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
                      that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
                                 now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
           was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
                      of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
                                 mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
           of your ghost lingered hours after you
                      were gone, and last month, I stalked
                                 a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
           my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
                      How can manufactured particles carry you
                                 through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
           stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
           trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
                      I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
                                 worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
           I would have pressed my face to her small
                      shoulder, and with the sheer work of
                                 two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
           conjure
                      you back
                                 to me.

Fanny Linguistics: Nickole

What people don’t know about my name
is that my grandmother gave me that “k”
                       —my very own unexpected
consonant—
                       those two strong arms and two strong legs,
that broom-handle spine—
                       that letter about no one with a name
same as mine has.

A mis-
           spelling, really—
                      the same botched phonetics of all her
girls’ names,
           misspelled but fancy

as chandeliers—Latonna Lee, Candies La Rayne, Lesi Annett 
            —names that know never to drink
            lemon water from a silver fingerbowl

but names that can be bobbed with a “y”
            and cheerlead.

Now, she called me Koey, so don’t expect me to respond
to the first nasal tone of my name
            but the harsher           cough 

that follows, that typo tambourined
from the back of the throat. I’ll answer to cold & coal & coke
    sometimes 

            even hear that sound as a scoop of coco, something dry

from the tin, but warmed with a little sugar and milk, a name
    snowing
            while it’s safe inside.