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Nicole Sealey

Nicole Sealey was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and raised in Apopka, Florida. She received an MFA from New York University and an MLA in Africana studies from the University of South Florida. Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast (Ecco Press, 2017), which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book and Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards. Her chapbook, The Animal After Whom Other Animals are Named (Northwestern University Press, 2016), was the winner of the 2016 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize. In 2019, Sealey was named a 2019-2020 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. She has received fellowships and awards from CantoMundo, the Cave Canem Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, and the Elizabeth George Foundation, among others. She was the Executive Director at the Cave Canem Foundation from 2017–2019 and will curate a special series of Poem-a-Day from August 31–September 11, 2020. Sealey currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Nicole Sealey
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

By This Poet

5

Even the Gods

Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among   the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who  should  be  happy  this  time?  Who  brings  cake  to whom? Pray  the  gods  do  not  misquote  your  covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.

Legendary

You want me to say who I am and all of that?
                Pepper LaBeija

What girl gives up an opportunity
to talk about herself? Not I. Not today.
I won’t bore you with my biography—
just a few highlights from my résumé.
I don’t aspire; I’m whom one aspires to.
The most frequently asked question isn’t
WWJD? It’s what would Pepper LaBeija do?
Really the question should be what hasn’t
she done? I’ve been walking now two decades
and got more grand prizes than all the rest.
I hate to brag, but I’m a one-man parade,
Jehovah in drag, the church in a dress.
Outside these walls I may be irrelevant,
but here I’m the Old and the New Testament.

The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born

[For Petra]

Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill.