After Kara Walker’s Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween
the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (1994)
Mothers, when you crowd together
I cannot hear you – you sound like waves.
Mothers, I have blood and water too.
I lift like rain misting off the road.
One mother says the water gathers at her thighs,
its fists bunched, and tells her who it eats
and who she’s eaten. There is no difference
between dry land and water but the story.
Mothers, there are so many of you
to enter the room of the body.
Who roots a man’s head to the ground
with her own head? Who gathers the flock
of her legs to lift herself up to a kiss?
Mothers, don’t leave me
in the grasses. My feet grow other feet.
My tongue cannot do what they ask.
One mother is rounded, a hulk, unhatched,
lifting another with thready arms.
One mother’s skin keeps the gray of the ocean inside.
Mothers, your feet will open
with so many stories – there are more shells
on the bottom in some places than others.
Each hilltop is an island.
Mothers, you will have to find a way
even if you don’t want to fly.
Which one of you reached the tree,
arm draped in moss and clothing?
Mothers, they’ll lift us and our brooms too
so they cannot see our feet on the ground.
They’ll bite us to taste the salt.
Where is that girl who rubbed lotion across her skin
like it held acres inside?
I left her in the wilting months
to tend skin with a softness that expected curtains
of corn to rise out of good ground. To touch skin with intention.
The grass was cool
above the baking ground.
Her collarbone stretched a long brown road
from here out of sight. Her hand on it
as though polishing
a good brown
cupboard door. She walked that road,
kept the intention of her skin
in her mouth
and moved with its words rocking
like wind blows leaves side to side. It will get cold
like a bow across the mouth. They will say
it is not okay to be
on the streets. Her feet will ask
Really? Ask Where is your mother? Will wonder
whether the sweater is enough to quiet the chill.
But then. She wore the sun
on her shoulder
like it bore flowering azalea, angel’s trumpet, daphne
that want light to make their dangerous honey, walked
as though there were a dog
guarding the shadow under each lifting heel.
RACHEL NELSON is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlas Review, Callaloo, Hartskill Review, Little Patuxent Review, Muzzle Magazine, pluck!, Smartish Pace, and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.