Three Southern Bops

if she wanted
for nana

hung huge underwear
on the shower curtain rod

probably some form of worship

red flag to the ass I would inherit
sunk her teeth in a glass atlantic
sugar warning the salt of tomorrow
she was pirate
I was plank walking home

she might move
she might move the earth

my mother was eight
when she sent her across the water
sent money after
mother learned to cry
refilled the ocean
nana learned to pitch her voice high

this was probably some form of worship
she might move the earth if she wanted to

now she lives in Florida
hands in the dirt
raises oranges and roses
gorgeous as mama and sharp
in Georgia mama will cut fresh
gardenias for my summer room
refuse to sign my college financial aid forms

this was probably some form of worship
(she might move)

can you water flowers with salt can you
flower Christmas with rum can you
drum up fruit out of fear can you
soak an oak in rose water and sun
can you drink anything and survive it nana?

probably
she might move the earth
if she wanted to*



soar

call it class suicide
a private-school girl listens
to her oldest heart
stoking what neither nuns nor liberals
could choke
where there is smoke
there is fire under a smart ass

I will take off from Mercy
and fly on my own wings.
Please forgive me.  I loved you all.
† 

you failed to teach me to love
money I never had
sweaters I couldn’t afford
cars that muffled air
shackled lines of credit
mcmansion yardless acres of prison
tiny talk hors d’oeuvres of nothing

I will take off from Mercy
and fly on my own

the name of a private school
is a print to print on clear stickers
rearview mirror to revere
access card to demagnetized lunches
insurance for panicked parents and
a lie about what god would do

I will take off from Mercy
and fly

 


affirmation 
for julia

you   radiance dark
warm on my face
you   depth bright
alive and breathing
you   soil bottom
of the universe    
only relevance of sun   your skin.

night black is the same way
may as well be a rainbow

someone would invade Grenada
steal joints off child fingers
drill dinosaurs out oceans
wanting the something
that makes you   you  

me
i would braid my breath
into rope to untie
would oil my hair
into brush   burnish
your skin     your skin

may as well be a rainbow

may as well be you
well as you one do
you   never outdone
each moment more
clearly the absolute
one

night black is the same way

more queerly the absolute truth
what could be still
be flat be sold
be dismembered  untold
be over be old
be less than yes
be anything other than blessed
in sight of night of you
you  you  you beacon of black

may as well be
may as well be
a rainbow

 


* Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon, 6. “The sight of Mr. Smith and his wide blue wings transfixed them for a few seconds as did the woman’s singing and the roses strewn about.  Some of them thought briefly that this was probably some form of worship.   Philadelphia where Father Divine reigned, wasn’t all that far away.”

“One of the nurses, hoping to bring some efficiency into the disorder, searched the faces around her until she saw a stout woman who looked as though she might move the earth if she wanted to.”

  Ibid, 3.  “The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.   Two days before the event was to take place he tacked a note on the door of his little yellow house:
    At 3:00 pm on Wednesday the 18th of February, 1931, I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings.   Please forgive me.  I loved you all. 
                            (signed) Robert Smith
                                    Ins. agent

  Ibid, 40.  “You think dark is just one color, but it ain’t.  There’re five or six kinds of black.  Some silky, some woolly.  Some just empty.  Some like fingers.  And it don’t stay still.  It moves and changes from one kind of black to another.  Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green.  What kind of green?  Green like my bottles?  Green like a grasshopper?  Green like a cucumber, lettuce or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm?  Well, night black is the same way.  May as well be a rainbow."


Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a community-accountable feminist poet and educator in Durham, North Carolina. She is the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and the co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.