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November 9, 2017 Poetry

Four Poems

Brionne Janae

Four Poems photo


when I could only watch Bo clutching our dark squirming love,
hymn song frantic on his lips. and the hoodoo woman still worked
below packing me with poultice and fresh cloth and night still hung
around us black as blessing. I asked to see the pale of what came after
the birth, blood curdled with excess, and I thought,
if only all was like this and the sun never shone
tomorrow, never flayed her with light in a world where darkness
like hers condenses hate easy as droplets on a glass of sweet tea.

before she left, the hoodoo woman paused, maybe feeling something like mercy,
she lifted her body turned to Bo and said there is no god
will look kindly on that girl, but I will bury this blood in your flower bed
and where it lies will come up tulips dark as a ballad to blue black skin
and as she grows bind them into a garland and crown her beloved,
queen of night, and pray the earth spring forth to protect her. 


“The most prestigious black churches....attracted some newcomers from the South, but their  formal, high-toned services discomforted others” -Ira Berlin The Making of African America

like house niggas plating yams at they white folks table
demons tucked away deep in they britches,
rigid as the gears of a delta bound steamer
they took to their Boston pews, good books in hand
noses to heaven like they’s tryna lodge a whiff
of God’s sweat up each nostril

and at the altar this woman
singing with so much soul she had Jesus
stripped in the stained glass beside her
gut drawn, breath coming fast,
his colored sun moving light against her skin

she had blues in her moaning
tears leaking all Friday night’s sin
how the whole church didn’t groan with her
is proof they never seen God
or really longed for a woman
like a deer wanting water

so my soul thirsts for her
her in that daisy’d cotton dress
with room at the knee for a hand up the hem
her with those holy eyes wet
and weeping, her lifted for me like I was god
and she my body made for worship

                       at the end of service
the women folk’s fans were hornet wings beating the air
and they eyes slung muck like buck shot
but it didn’t make no nevermind 
she moved through them all like clear water
cutting  ‘round jagged rock


we slept arms touching feet touching the crown
of a tangled head. we hacked on dust took air
damp with grime from a shack too drafty
for livestock. we were often waking

afraid as children are of even the smallest nighttime shudder.
Jacob called out most but who would answer?
imagine the old cripple who slumped lower and lower into the earth
really loved us. imagine my mother dead but still floating down

to lie with me in the lull of those quiet hours. imagine my father
free and a sailor working for a little something to give his baby.
yes. dream them anywhere but there. a stone’s throw away
bone tired benumbed by slaving. each day it gets harder

to imagine my father as more than a stud pumping
into a choice mare. imagine he has not forgotten my name.


~July 29th 1910

you don’t see them dancing in what is almost a breeze
sifting the thick july night. lifeless,
dangling from the wooden pole, seen easy as a girl child
just beneath the surface all fat with water.
if you really looked you’d see them, but what would be gained.

already the town is silent, twitching its ears like a buck
wary of the hunter. the saloon, closed. Marsh’s general store
with its stock of rifles, barricaded. as if the fire arms
would come out gunning for the innocent. even the road
is spooked, the dust refusing to rise as we walk.

you been changed, since they said yes at Oberlin.
your lips stretched with high words like insufferable,
liberation, ignorance
. I remember when we spent the day
sun drunk sprawled at the river’s edge and I culled blues
from your cunt and your head fell back like you wanted
to call on God but couldn’t fix on how to get your jaw gears rolling again.

and after, when you found the braid of knotty brown hair,
ribboned and lapping at the river’s edge
like a weed loosed from the muddy bottom,
I saved you for the first time. you stood struggling to cleave your tongue
from the roof of your mouth. to force out the word. drowned.
I lied. pointed to the even shorn end of the braid. a girl,
yes, but still alive like a dog shucking its heavy pelts for summer.

what went down your thigh that dawn
after months spent fucking is no secret.
your skin on my tongue like grits in the morning
now runs with caster oil.
to taste the change on you like the river turned
after passing through the girl,
her fingernails, her small parts, her teeth.
how to taste her, like the baby
still lingering at your lips—without weeping—

on your knees
beneath you right eye,
drooping as if you too are leaving,
at your hair line
so much blood.


they shot my brother—if it were only so simple
now—they shot my brother—you’re stuck
on calling for help—they shot my
– and how can I tell you—they shot
my brother—they shooting all our brothers
they shot—and there won’t be no calling
on anyone—they shot— but God
they—they cut the phone wires—they shot my
don’t you see them hanging from the poles.

spirits in the trees
hush love hush love
go’on fly home

must we call the snatches of light
rifles seeking flesh, or could they simply be lightning
bugs signing there love through blackness.
come. don’t stare down the road too long
or notice how quickly it submits to the forest
come love, we must not stay here
beneath the street light. we’d best not
walk too far into darkness.


image: Tara Wray