Natasha Oladokun is a Cave Canem fellow, poet, and essayist. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, Harvard Review Online, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She is Assistant Poetry Editor at storySouth, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Hollins University, her MFA alma mater.
Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown
_____O partial sleep
In the bed I keep reaching for the nothing beside me
and I wonder if somewhere they’ve already killed you.
Up North, they took another one of us today.
Even hundreds of miles removed from down-
river, we are spared little—expendable
as grass, safe as shorn lions. I keep reminding myself
I am yet young. There is still time for me in this life
to throw out my phone, turn off the TV, leave
this house with the smell of the year’s buckshot
washed from my nails, sheets, tongue, blackened hair.
It does not matter where we go
or how we get there, love: the wide-ringed
bulls-eye of Who next? comes faster than the arm
of any law, of any uniformed fist. Uneasy lies
the head that wears it—my head
still sore with a coronation of braids,
the coarse length from nape to waist fluted into cords
only you could touch. When strangers tell me I look pretty
this way, I think of your absence, this rope tug
on my neck as I walk. This rough weight swaying,
thick in the heat.
After the Poet Has Been Told by a White Woman That Her Hair Makes Her Look like a Lion
You have heard this poem before. The one
where the poet insists she’s stopped counting the ways
her body has been made into an animal’s—
made into something with even sharper teeth,
something with a taste for real blood.
It’s tempting to scavenge for meaning buried in a mountain of hair,
but this is no transfiguration. In the bougie grocery store
one town over, the raw cut meat, red as tongues, glistens
behind the glass counter. And the poet wanders
through the rows like a child in a maze, feeling for a way out.
We are all of us disappearing. We are all of us falling
into the floor hoping to be swallowed by it. And the poet
worships the old testament God of lightning and fury,
biding her time, saying nothing. When she sees her face
reflected in the glass counter, everything standing on end,
she tells herself to praise the way her body curves at every slope.
Sometimes, she loves the world with a wideness disproportionate
to her heart. Sometimes behind glass, that heart lies, beating.