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nic 7d
This is a prayer petitioned to the pantheon
Of black women who wove me from
The silk of their southern accents.

In their absence, I try
To shapeshift this longing into
A makeshift respite. I try to imagine heaven -
A hungry kitchen. It’s jaws unhinged and
Its cheeks
Filled with women who fry fish like oil
Is love’s native tongue.

I’ve come to my family’s hometown.

To bury my kin
Within the warm welcome
Of rain, cheap tobacco, and grease.

I drown myself in lavender to cover the scent.
To forget the war I swore I’d learn to love
After I’d won. But
Muscles have a memory
Of their own.

This is a grief that knows
My bones and calls them "home"
Like an old nickname when the night stands
Still but nothing feels
Familiar but the shame.

This is an inheritance by any
Other name—it’s just as sweet:
The way we unfurl like umbrellas
Under the weather of a sympathetic storm.
And here lies my sister who fought like
Fist was her first born. And there sits
My mother
Fierce and scorned. Torn
From her baby by a body that needed
More than it could give. A body that knew
Love is a sharp thing.
Hollowed be thy shiv.

Survivor’s guilt is a shove when the dissonance
Comes up and the truth is waiting
To hear it’s name culled from
The compost of slurs that I turned and
Taunted when healing was haunted a seed.

And I think:
If these headstones could speak
They’d tell me what it means to be made
In the image of the same god
Who made linen suits
And sweet tea and
The Dungeon Family.

Tell me what
to say to the woman who brought me
Into this world
When she no longer wants to exist.

Tell me what to say when the writers
Who made want to me a write don't
Want to exist.  Tell me what to say when all
Of the other artists are dying and I don’t.

But they won’t.

So I hold my mother’s shoulders
Like a grudge and
Break the silence like bread.

Say, “I know.” Say, “she knew too.”
Bow my head. And say, “amen.”
Like a southern woman should.
nic Nov 2014
I forgot to stop by the post again
But the kitchen is already burning.
The walls are aging in bursts of thick black wrinkles
That roll
Like the unsteady jiggle of jumping baby legs.
They are begging for steady wrists.
And kiss.
The pinch
And **** routine
Of freshly minted aunties.
You see, I couldn't find an envelope anywhere.
So this foil gone have to do.

This aluminum ain't no ruse.
Ain't no poetic device
Manifested in the silver breasted
I swear
I had this whole thing
planned out differently.  

Me, a gray storm of locs
Running beneath morning's chin,
Wishing you safe travels
From the boat of her collar bone.
You, a memory tucked
Inside my favorite tooth.
The two of us,
A tuft of life only separated
By a mountain
Called Heaven.
I had planned on helping you climb  
This one day.
But the kitchen is already burning.

Tomorrow, that journalist you look up to
Will write
About how another one of our daughters
Painted herself visible.
And she gone wonder why.
In this foil, rests my skin. You give this to her.
Here, X marks the spot.
Tell her that if this skin
Is such a gem worth fighting for,
She can keep it.
nic Mar 2014
Grandma read her doctor's orders aloud
over a fresh cigarette.
Hummed a nameless hymn
of white clouds
as she recited the litany
of prescribed don't do's:
heavy lighting,
bending over,
long periods of standing.
This is how you convince
your grandchildren to clean your house
on the first day of Christmas vacation.
Grandma's hands are too full
to hold brooms and dusters anyway.
They are too busy balancing prayers
born between the flickering knees
Of her dust orange lighter.
And her patron saint has four legs.
All of which can be found
tattooed across the chest
of a Marlboro carton.
Grandma is a religious woman.
So she prays religiously.
Says the body is a temple
and hers is an old testament book
of nicotine sacrifices.
A fiery copper skin
of crop circle veins.
Each wrinkle a story.
Each story ending in flames.
For 5 decades
she has been burning.
And I am too old
to pretend the ash is invisible.
Too young to watch it
cuddle the curves
of her lips
and call it anything
but sacrilege.

And this is why I need
to vacuum the rugs.
nic Mar 2014
"Poem after poem comes - which perhaps is how poets pray." Alice Walker.

1. Spend your seventh days roasting
in the roots of my teeth.
Make space in the canopies of flesh
fluttering above my heart,
take off your cool,
rest your dreams
on the shelf of my ribs,
and be at home.
All I want is to be full of you
because there are moments
when I am afraid that I'll run out of mornings or ink.

Or both.

2. There are people who are afraid
of running out of poems
or poets to retreat inside
so they Solomon sing us praises
as if we pen their salvation in these poems.

But I am no Moses.
This staff is made of ink and plastic.
These wings are made of wax and plaster.
So I melt.
Sometimes into the lap of a Ford's
front seat when the moon gets stale
and the communion kicks in;
sometimes onto a computer screen
with one tab drenched in my fears
while another plays Lalah Hathaway's 'Outrun the Sky';
Sometimes the Talenti melts
before I can pretend that writing
fixes everything.
And that *****.

3. It is a privilege to be a poet.
To carve myself into a sanctuary
for folks who need an altar
at midnight. To shed my skin
between the blue pews
of a page or a stage.

4. I owe a lot to writers
for lending me their voices
before I knew
my own
and for being a part of the village
that raised this baby
with a backbone
made of ballpoint.
I am a writer
with too few tongues but with what I have
I am grateful.
nic Oct 2013
Honor the sea
for the sailor in your blood.
For the lack of anchor
in my ankles.
I've been drifting sailor
since divorce papers
taught me how to choke
the eternity out of a vow.
I am great at leaving
what I love.

2. Mental illness runs
in my mother's family
so leaving was more
like a race for sanity.
A relay to forget.
I am afraid that Liz
has schizophrenia
because she stopped writing. 
I am afraid that I too
may get caught between
a rock and a hard place
called depression.
When a poet stops
being a poet,
all that silence must leave
room for the walls
to start speaking in tongues.
Love yourself out loud
because when homeless
holy ghosts can't live
in your poems,
they post themselves
in your dreams.

3. On the days
when your body feels
more alley than altar,
and you can't manage
to believe in any God
who could think
you are worth dying for,
go back to bed.
Scatter your sacred congregation
of bones beneath blankets.
Don't come out
til you feel whole again.

4. Love yourself to pieces.
Your muscles only grow
from being torn and rebuilt.
Destruction is a form
of creation.
It is okay to be shattered skin
And flooded eyelids.
It is okay to dance
in the middle of your ruins.
Movement is a sign of life.
Show the world you're
still alive.

5. Love this magic
called life, because you
are the child of magicians. 
We, people of Black suits
and bow ties
of braided chains.
We, wands for wrists,
perfect for reaching
for potions and people
and dreams.
We, top hats for teeth,
perfect for abracadabra speaking
things into existence. 
We, artists. 
We, storytellers. 
We, preachers and poets.
We who spit spells disguised
as spoken word.
Poems that work like prayers
birthed between pews.
We, walking sanctuaries
who birth life. Love, 
you are nothing short
of magic.

6. When my father moved out,
my mother stopped moving.
Became a southern shipwreck
of scriptures and beached
her hands across the crests
of my cheeks.
Looked at me to be
lighthouse during storm.
I read that as adults,
we try growing into the traits
that would've rescued our parents
but I'm hoping you never
feel the need to save me.

7. These days,
my mother's hips
don't miss a chance
to kiss a beat
like Stevie Wonder
was just invented.
And isn't it lovely?
How she finally
learned to wear
her lonely in the sway
of her shoulders to keep
the shame of an empty
ring finger from spilling
over her children.
Love, you come from a long
line of magicians who've
nearly died trying to pull off
a miracle like you,
but I don't need your rescue.
You are not anyone's SOS.
You are the result
of prayers wrapped in
the silk of southern accents.
My plagiarized draft of a poem
called God.
You are the only
graven image our creator
has ever commissioned.
Treat yourself as such.
A revision. After Tonya Ingram
nic Sep 2013
I read somewhere,
that as adults,
we try growing into
the traits that would've
rescued our parents.
And when my father moved out
I started moving.
The day my his signature
danced across a set
of divorce papers,
my body became boat.
These ankles retracted anchor.
I have been sailor ever since.

2. Mental illness runs
in my mother's family
so leaving was more like
a race for sanity.
There are days when
I wonder if schizophrenia
is what happened
when Liz stopped writing.
When a poet stops being a poet
I guess all of that empty
silence leaves room for
the walls to start speaking.
There are days when I wander
just to see if my feet
are as fast as they
used to be.
I used to leave what I love.

3. I love a lot
so I jog often.
Not for hobby,
but for healing.

4. Survival is a scary thing,
especially when it means
running from what's
already been sewn into
your family genes.

5. If your body ever
feels foreign,
remember home is
where the heart is
so it is no worthless carcass.
Call it Cathedral.
You. Holy congregation
of bones filled to the brim
with sin but blessed
from birth.
Your skin is nothing short
of sacred. Sanctuary.
Your muscles only grow
from being torn and rebuilt
so it makes sense
for your walls
to crumble sometimes.
Destruction is a form
of creation.
And of course,
you will want to dance
amongst that rubble.
Movement is a sign of life.
Let them see
you're still alive.

6. This life is magic
and you come from
a long line of magicians.
We people of Black suits
and bow ties threaded
from braided chains.
We, wands for wrists,
perfect for reaching
for potions and people
and dreams.
We, top hats for teeth,
perfect for abracadabra speaking
things into existence.
We, artists.
We, storytellers.
We, preachers and poets.
We who spit spells
disguised as poems.
Poems that work like
prayers born between pews.
We, walking sanctuaries
with pews for knees.
We who birth life. Love,
you are nothing short
of magic.

7. The day the spine
of my father's signature
tangoed along the rubble
of a broken marriage,
my mother's hips
kissed a beat like
Stevie Wonder
was just invented.
And my God,
is it lovely.
How she wears her lonely
in the sway of her shoulders.
See you come from
a long line of magicians
who don't need to be rescued.
You are not our final flare.
You are not our savior.
Love, you are my plagiarized draft
of a poem called God.
nic Apr 2013
There’s an after taste
that has been plaguing my tongues
for months now
and my conscience
tells me it’s something
called home.
Something like the sting
of rotten apples
grown along the stride
of Lady Liberty.

You see,
big cities tend to
stain my my mouth
and I’ve yet to
figure out how
to brush off such
brackish flavors
brought on by
bundled bodies
in train cars.

I am craving
warm subways
and cold concrete.
Craving that sweet insincerity
like candied cold shoulders.

I want to be served
every bit of a
baked BK attitude
in the furl of a brow.
Want to taste
hard broiled Harlem
in the switch of hips.
Mild Manhattan oozing
the stitch of an
Hermes steeple tote.

I am always quick
to order a flight
to my second home.
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