Issue 139 — 

Teri Ellen Cross Davis [1] (ArLiJo#139)
Saida Agostini (ArLiJo#139)
Paulette Beete (ArLiJo#139)
Carolyn Joyner (ArLiJo#139)
Alexa Patrick (ArLiJo#139)



Special Black Women Poets Issue
Edited by Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 139


Introduction
These poems represent an intersection in the lives of four women-four poets, four Black women, four women of color. Their work explores the painful loss of history, the intimate aches of family, what makes a family, and how we see and respond to the world around us. Blackness is not a monolithic culture-all of our experiences pull from and create the African diaspora. These poems speak to the moment of Black Lives Matter and beyond it, because next week, next year, twenty years from now, we will still be Black women and what we do and how we love will still matter. We are in this fight for the long haul-toiling in the shadows, yelling to be heard. I say the names of these women as a thank you to them for allowing me to share their work: Saida Agostini, Paulette Bette, Carolyn Joyner, Alexa Patrick.


Vous êtes ici
  (French for you are here)


In a Paris museum, a cool blast lifts
her white cotton dress, billowing

round her cinnamon legs. C’est Marilyn Monroe
says the man next to her. A smile

charms his laugh, she hastily smooths down
the unintended peep show.

Snapshot: Rain at the Rodin museum, sculptures glisten and glint
Snapshot: Hotel room’s plush velvet curtains, the color of spilled wine


The hairy mound of a bush, framed
Elevated—The Origin of the World.

A Black woman molded in bronze
shouldering Africa as Four Parts of the World.

Snapshot: A small café, a sip of coffee with cream, silk clouds slip down her throat
Snapshot: A perfumerie, discovering scents that will ghosts her footsteps for decades to come
.

The best body is often retrospect.
She traveled over 3,000 miles.

A man compared her to an icon—visibility
is more than being seen, it’s not being

erased. On every map,
she remembers to look—


From a more perfect Union, to be published in 2020 by Mad Creek Books and winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize.

Copyright © 2020 by Teri Ellen Cross Davis.


About the Author
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, to be published in 2020 by Mad Creek Books and winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize. Her first collection, Haint, was published by Gival Press, and won the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is the 2020 Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Memorial Prize winner and a member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective. She has received fellowships to attend Cave Canem, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Hedgebrook, Community of Writers Poetry Workshop and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work can be read in many anthologies and journals including: Not Without Our Laughter: poems of joy, humor, and sexuality; Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam; and the following journals: Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Mom Egg Review, Natural Bridge, Poet Lore, Harvard Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Tin House. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
 

 
Saida Agostini

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 139


we thiefed our name

translate this into any tongue
and you will have a story
of white smooth skinned evangels
with hot palms and unnamed dark
women ready to fuck in the embrace
of open fields. one uncle tells us
of free black men running past
the threat of trinidad into
guyana, another of corsica
still more speak of ships, another
a big rambling house more confused
then its yellow children. everyone
is clumsy with our blood
this—family trees can
prove: look for a root and
sap comes wandering
none of us will ever
know our mothers
just burst
forward from job’s great
black head
lying and feasting.


Copyright © 2020 by Saida Agostini.


granny teaches her children how to eat poison

the lessons starts in Essequibo. the summer of 1965:
a crowded kitchen fat
with pleading, another yellow gal, 20 with three children
all hungry and wailing mummy where daddy? 21 days
spent restless waiting and waiting by an unforgiving door
and empty larder, restless steel pots clanging on the stove

and it goes on like this: with a father shamed home after
three weeks of sweetness with another woman, back
to his own starving children nursed on boiled white rice
spiced with cassareep. his own belly big from love while
his wife spins time into fields of obeisance, all this love that
cannot be made into survival without him. three weeks of
hunger becomes love the women he fucks ghosts
and so on, until she can’t eat without that lump in her throat
that makes her want to bawl out onto the street screaming
me husband don’ wan’me
   me husband don’ wan’ me

watch her banging and banging these pots
cooking down truth into an inchoate stew

domesticate hurt into a monster we trust
more than our own eyes.
help us still love a congregation of men and the brute
country that made them until we while away whole life
times singing hymns that make us fat with belief
he doesn’t beat me    it’s the evil eye   why leave him


this litany sang as she watches the blossoming
bruise on my own mummy’s arm
twenty years later while I play house at their feet,
set a plate brimming before her and say eat
meaning let your children live.

Copyright © 2020 by Saida Agostini.



good favor
after great great granny’s photograph

like any good higue, i was beautiful
once: this picture is proof enough
of blood, proof that something
nameless can and will haunt you
how one generation’s griefs
can abide for a thousand more
my own daughter could not
speak of me for the century
of her life without tears
that water blessed me
as did her silence
your mother would
tell you don’t ask great granny
about her mummy and so you
obeyed, just sucked back
words into your throat
where everything beautiful
and grieving can be caught.
this kind of quiet is an impossible
love. black folks don’t get
to own their bodies, why
should their names
be different? I was murdered
by my husband’s hand
and now even in death
you let him get the last word.
my picture is
a talisman perched
in every last one
of my grandchildren’s
homes. me bonnetted
and severe in stiff colorless
splendor: let this picture
be a lesson, the yeast
that finally makes you rise up
against any fool who tries
to say they know you how
you lived because they
believe they know
how you died


Copyright © 2020 by Saida Agostini.


what love is
after Phillip Levine

you are 8, holding hands with
your little sister in the back of your father’s car,
watching as he slows the engine down to a
bare murmur and pleads with your mother
marching down the highway, the flowers
on her hat trembling like her hands as
she walks away from her husband
as if she could walk away from this life
and all she borrowed to buy it.
you will focus on your father’s pleadings
the empty promises to treat her kindly,
stop sleeping with other women, and
your sister will start to wail asking
is mummy not coming back home
no one has the breath to answer her,
least of all you. in your baby wisdom,
all you can do is wish beyond heaven
that she won’t listen to daddy’s lies
keep marching away from that car
and be happy without you
you’ll look at the dead
buck on the side of the road, next to
your mother, as she stops to listen
to your father’s lies, the deer’s neck
smashed, his body still
beautiful, the fur soft, flesh ripped
exposing a dark black machine
so soft, stinking and fragile that years
later you’ll remember the risk of loving
something that wild. what it gave up
to run across that road, the sheer
dumb luck it held for the thousands
of days it ran riot over a shrinking
forest, and the men determined to kill
it, halve its neck and embrace the head
as a trophy. one day, you’ll be brave
and ask your mother why she stayed
why she kept her children and raised
them with a man who thought taming
was an act of tenderness. you won’t
listen to the answer


Copyright © 2020 by Saida Agostini.


About the Author
Saida Agostini is a queer Afro-Guyanese poet whose work explores the ways that Black folks harness mythology to enter the fantastic. Saida’s poetry can be found in Barrelhouse Magazine, the Black Ladies Brunch Collective’s anthology, Not Without Our Laughter, and other publications. Her first collection of poems, just let the dead in, was a finalist for the Center of African American Poetry & Poetics’ 2020 Book Prize, as well as the New Issues Poetry Prize. Her first chapbook, STUNT, will be released by Neon Hemlock in the fall of 2020.

A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, Saida has been awarded honors and support for her work by the Watering Hole and Blue Mountain Center, as well as a 2018 Rubys Grant funding travel to Guyana to support the completion of her first manuscript. She lives online at: www.saidaagostini.com.
 

 

Paulette Beete

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 139



Poem for a Pandemic of Dead Black Bodies
for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd

step on my neck
break my mother back

to ancestral grief
ashed in black mouths

wail the names of the dead
wail their true names, wail

beloved   beloved
belovedbelovedbelovedbeloved

ash filling mouths
filled with grief, filled with howl

filled with rage, filled with hurt
filled with wounds

of whiteness threatened, threatening
white words that mean

know your place
know your grief

has no synonym in white words
that burn black bodies to ash

falling falling falling falling     falling
brown skin bludgeoned and whipped

whip light as an anvil
whip light as a sledgehammer

whip light as history falling full
of white words words words words

out of reach out of reach out of reach   black freedom
out of reach out of reach out of reach   black justice
out of reach out of reach out of reach   the end of grief

white time ticking like a bomb
hungry for black bodies

white bodies thrive like grief
thrives in black bodies

kidnapped by white rage
broken by white rage

black bodies as justice
for white rage

whiteness burning black bodies
cities burning like black freedom
burning in black mouths choked with ash


Copyright © 2020 by Paulette Beete.


all the gods go Boom!


4 little girls
go Boom

ribbons go
4 little smiles

God goes—

4 little girls   fly out of his hands
     Boom!

4 little girls   fly into his hands
     Boom!

4 little girlbodies

Boom! go their voices
Boom! goes God’s wail
listen
  to God keen   Black bodies
       become Boom!
        cinders on his tongue
        grit in his eye

Boom! go God’s hands
empty
lonely

Boom! goes Bombingham

flash of
  white hands
flash of
  Black girls
flash of
  ——

That first Boom!
still
howling
how long

Black bodies
holler Oh! Ow! Boom!

sing Boom!
clap Boom!
wail Boom!
catch Boom!
die Boom!
God Boom!
catch God!
oh God!
oh Boom!
             —oh God!


Copyright © 2020 by Paulette Beete.


Study for A Man in Relation to His Child

In this poem my father is an absence.
In another poem, I might hardly miss him.
In another yet he is alive and well

or he is a man without a daughter
-sized space within him.
He is an ordinary man.

These are only guesses.
I do not know what truth sounds like,
if that is what’s knocking at the door.

If I knew how to write who my father was
I wouldn’t write this poem.

If I could apprehend my father in the language of
fathering I wouldn’t write this poem.

I do not know how tall my father is.
I do not know how much he weighs.

Sometimes he wears a mustache.
Sometimes he doesn’t.

How should he look in this poem?
Which of his shadows should I hold onto?

If I bring my father back to life how can I
make myself appear life-sized in his eyes?

Copyright © 2020 by Paulette Beete.



Some of my best friends are white . . .

Some of my best friends are white.
How do I betray myself in loving them?

What of this Black self do I amputate?
I don’t doubt that they do love me   and

I doubt that they can love me.
What gymnastics of whiteness

make my Blackness bearable?
How have I undone myself?

In the mouths of my White friends
I am unnamed like in a book I read

that told how someone can destroy you
if you give them your true name.

I see now I am their pet.   No—
I am their beloved.

We are separate but unequal
in our love for one another.

They hide in their whiteness.
I hide in their whiteness.

Even if I can palliate the infection so only one drop
of whiteness remains      —am I still stained?

Each time I pull a white friend to my breast
do I colonize myself again again?


Copyright © 2020 by Paulette Beete.

About the Author
Paulette Beete’s poems, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Always Crashing, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly, among many others, and in the anthologies Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC and Saints of Hysteria (with Danna Ephland). She has also published two chapbooks of poetry: Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press) and Voice Lessons (Plan B Press). She has been a Winter Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and several of her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Maryland.
 

 


Carolyn Joyner

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 139



Nothing but A Ragged Wound*
after Natasha Tretheway


Like the moon that night, my son
wanes into a likeness of his child’s past self,
as if returning to a place of new beginning
where once he had begun.

He wanes into a likeness of his child’s past self.
Soon, earthly dreams will ink black,
as he returns to where he’d once begun,
becomes the breath he will have lost.

Soon, earthly dreams will ink black.
I wonder if he’ll meet surprises upon his death
as he becomes the breath he will have lost,
closes his gaped mouth to pose a smile.

I wonder if he’ll meet surprises upon his death
when his face lights up, a tropical sun beneath,
his gaped mouth closes to pose a smile.
A big air walks into my sorrow.

When his face lights up, a tropical sun beneath,
I begin to ride the red possession of regret,*
beg for a big air to walk into my sorrow,
erase memories of me trying to wash him from my womb.

I begin to ride the red possession of regret—
for him having a father who never saw his good,
me trying to wash him from my womb.
I am lament’s muted dirge.

His father never saw his good.
I retreat into the valley of the shadow,
lament’s muted dirge, my child’s past self-waning
like the moon that night—my son.

* Gwendolyn Brooks quoted phrases


Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Joyner.



Umbilical

He dies with a tube in his stomach,
  inching tawny liquid into a bedside

bag. The color changes when he drinks
  strawberry vitamin water, and finally,

when he doesn’t. I sit in the blue
  sleeping chair next to him, a sentinel

guarding body fluids like treasure.
  Each hue in the dark rainbow

tells a story. The yellow-red beckons
  me to float its segue to copper-brown.

My head begins to dizzy, limbs turn to dust;
  I know the ruddy swirl he leaks is mine—

the blood I’d given him when he lived inside,
  that ushered him into manhood, let him

make mortgage deals, groove to Chuck’s go-go.
  The supple tube it pulses is umbilical, cancer

the placenta to which it is attached, like a mother’s belly
  in delivery turned inside out, giving birth to death.


Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Joyner.


Feelin’ Red

kinky and cool, saucy and irreverent,
a little wicked even, yet, mesmerizing—
a blend of call-back-the-dead red
smoldering in a cognac and cashmere
voice and 5-inch stilettos spiking
the samba dance floor—an aroma
of ginger with whiffs of mango
chutney and cinnamon at its edges.
Red as in, “Yo, baby, you rockin’
those jeans.“ Talkin’ ’bout the delicious
hugging an apple’s shine, the blush
in freshly spanked cheeks, a sacred
sister giggling deep, speaking in wild
mimosa tongue. I’m that ribbon kiting
a brazen breeze, silken and surprising,
my body’s rooms home to a hellcat
itch to bray at the moon (in the daytime),
boast, I let the dogs out—unbleached
American guerilla dogs, tethered
to the cave of my black skin, barking
house-on-fire red, about to leap.

Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Joyner.


The Big Lie

Dying wasn’t something you’d do. I wouldn’t
let you think you were because I couldn’t, because
nothing would make you dead, because you were
the life that would beat death, because if it

Glory, glory . . .

came looking, I’d hide you behind my back, set fire
to its chill. There was no talk of its long legs,
our chests puffed-up with its foul breath. I let
truth rage behind invisible walls, knowing’s

hallelujah!

vaulted niches. The Big Lie. I lived it—visceral
armor for lungs, heart, gut—gift of second
skin that kept me safe inside, didn’t fall
away until long after you were gone.

His truth . . .

It was the only way to get out of bed,
put off tomorrow’s long-suffering today.

is marching on.


Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Joyner.


About the Author
Carolyn Joyner, a Washington, DC poet, examines life’s themes in her work through the use of contemporary and traditional form. She has been featured in various literary magazines and anthologies, among them, Revise the Psalm, Obsidian, Pleiades, Gathering Ground, Beyond the Frontier, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. She has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University, is a Cave Canem and Hurston-Wright Foundation fellow, and has been awarded artist fellowship grants from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
 

 


Alexa Patrick

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 139


The Black Men Outside the Waterfront Safeway
Catcall Me


& I’m sure it’s not me who they call for;
D.C. winters make any contact,
flickering lash, a fire to put your hands over.

They stand like barren trees,
crooked teeth shiver like hood castanets,
remind them of worlds other than corners.

I wonder who they have at home to be tender to,
if they paid the bill, if this small moment
of devotion runs like a furnace.

In this city of rush hours and new buildings,
of no one here is from here anymore,
even the air becomes brittle with lonely;
maybe, they yell I love you, just to hear the echo.


Copyright © 2020 by Alexa Patrick.


My Mother Once Flattened My Father’s Tires

because my father
kept driving on the grass
after my mother
told him not to,
and it only a few months
after the divorce finalized.
She, anticipating his disobedience
(with a puncturing joy)
delicately placed 11 nails
on the barren area
and awaited his return.

I still hear
the rusted words crowd
the rental car, swell
enough to drown
Stevie Wonder’s A Time to Love,
cooing in the background.

I knew
the Toys R’ Us sprees,
the large pizzas,
had deeper roots
yet to surface
each feeling more apology
than play, my father’s face
cracked like a drought,
the lack of sleep, something
running him over.

My mother was just fine.
Wanted my father gone, but
the lawn to keep
the flowers he planted.
Bulbs knotted, stubborn
fists refusing to sprout, or
take direction.

My mother took
consequence
into her hands,
tilled it with green thumbs,
tells the story to this day
behind laughter.

My father drove us back
after two days
at the Sheraton,
after swimming pools,
movies, a small vacation
from a home
to which he never
fully returns.

Every time he does,
my brother and I grow
taller, like weeds, he says,
mourning what he
can no longer tend to,
has only half of,
a garden of grief
pressed at his skin.

Again, he dropped us off,
ran over the grass,
backed out
of his once-driveway.

Shaking her head,
my mother watched
him try to resow
what power he had,
then leave, confident,
like she wouldn’t
eventually
make her point.


Copyright © 2020 by Alexa Patrick.


Ode to the Hickey

Some call it childish,
result of clumsy, eager,
not watching your mouth,
or its mess,
a silent come here finishing
in a loud, deep purple.

When it is honest it is
all breath, and spit, and now,
and now, the blood beneath
the surface, whispering
a sweet nothing.

A smaller me might have
worn scarves in summer
just to hide what my skin wanted,
when boys thought me too Black
to bloom a bruise.

Now, no material compares
to the silk of a proud lover,
who claims me, shouts
against my neck a panting hue,
a pendant to proximity.

I trace the edges in the mirror,
thank all the boys
whose secret I was.
My grown self gladly
trading shame for
public side eyes,
wolf whistles,
wrapped like garments
around my throat.


Copyright © 2020 by Alexa Patrick.



Sugar

Gathered like sunflowers
at the breakfast table,
six sisters share a midnight,
wash down 7Up cake
with the kind of laughter
reminding you they are
in the choir,
bells in their throats
like hallelujah,
the sweetest thing.

This, before their hands cracked
from prayer and spanking babies,
when they’d pinch blood
into their cheeks,
fix the lipstick gracefully
announcing the small mole
they all kept at the corner
of their mouths. So pretty,
even their sharpest words
were frosted.

I come from sugar
the way a hymn comes
from grief or praise;
I have so many ways
to return:

Grease my scalp with the same oil
I use for pans and find myself
in a Pittsburgh kitchen,
forget everyone’s name
and weep because I love them,
dream of pistols under pillows,
wake up bitter about husbands
I don’t yet have. Every morning
rises a manicured finger
pointing home.

Geraldine went first,
winked at my mother
from the casket.
Willa passed
on her 102nd birthday.
They all know how to make an exit,
make us mourn in confection.

Their grace, not dead,
heirloomed,
like beauty mark
or recipe, there
even in the cavities
left behind.

Their stories coat my teeth;

I, too, am beside them.
Never alone or lost, just alive,
with their names trailing
like crumbs to God.

Copyright © 2020 by Alexa Patrick.



About the Author
Alexa Patrick is a singer and poet from Connecticut. Alexa is a Cave Canem Fellow and 2019 Head Coach of the D.C. Youth Slam Team. She has held teaching positions through Split This Rock, The University of the District of Columbia, and the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University. She has also coached the slam teams of American University and George Washington University for the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. You may find Alexa’s work published in The Quarry, Gargoyle, CRWN Magazine, and The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic.