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Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint (Gival Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is a Cave Canem fellow and works as the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. She lives in Maryland.

By This Poet

4

Crescendo

          “You almost scared us to death,” my mother muttered
          as she stripped the leaves from a tree limb to prepare
          it for my back.
                                              Richard Wright, Black Boy
 
 
My son nests—pawing
each pillow like a breast
fleshed out and so newly
forgotten. I’ve spanked him
 
once tonight. He takes turns
laughing, then crying, defiant,
then hungry. In his mouth
my name—all need. Pursed
 
lips plead, Mommy and I
am guilty of the same sin.
I miss his curled and tucked
weight. Embryo, the deepest
 
root yanked clean. This is why
babies are born crying
into this world, having held
fast to such an intimate tether
 
who willingly would let go?
But today another white cop walked
free, another black body was still
on the ground. “Not indicted”
 
undoubtedly the future outcome.
Four years ago I crossed labor’s
red sea of pain to birth a boy—
no doctor hit his backside, now I raise
 
my hand to complete an act
older than me, breaking the black
back of the boy to make a man
who can survive in America.
 
Mommy he calls me and my teats
threaten to weep old milk at our stasis.
Both of us needing the succor of sleep,
both of us fighting—him, to keep me near
 
me, punishing him to be left alone.
He crawls into my lap, his heart
is three, his body, a lanky four.
I cover him with a blanket
 
too thin to mean it. We rock
on the edge of his bed. Listening
to the symphony’s fourth movement:
the crescendo sweet, full of tension,
 
taut violin strings singing. I think
Mozart must have known something
of loving with such a tender fear
that it breaks you open like a welt
 
that bleeds to heal. Tonight I give up,
cuddling this boy so full of belief
in himself, I’m too tired with love
to beat it out of him.

 

Knuckle Head

My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,

dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,

a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.

Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs

onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.

My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.

Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.

Letdown

The books say that milk letdown
feels like pins and needles
but when you’re pumping at work
it’s more like lungs constricting
under the crush of chlorinated water.
You know, god willing, when she’s 16 or 25
you’ll never be this essential again.
So remember this smothering need now,
the engorged breasts, the suction, the release.
Know the ache swelling and flowing from you,
is caused by your hands cradling plastic bottles,
that your warm, twisting baby is elsewhere,
away from you. Know the sadness will threaten
to sweep you under, each time you take out the pump
and you can’t swim away from it. You must do this for her.
You must stay, you must drown.