Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Joy Priest





Winning Colors, 1988

I am born in the season of color-blocking and crack,
in the year that begets Al-Qaeda.
The light and dark shades of School Daze dance
across movie screens. A girl-horse wins the garland of roses.

554 blooms sprout red around her roan neck—shock
of black mane, white haze down her nose.
Before her only two fillies clutched
the purse: Regret, 1915; Genuine Risk in ’80;

our names for girls. When my birth horse
sets off out of the gate, a man and woman are working
their eleventh hour, twirling around the country club floor,
in the graceful choreography of weathered

servers. The woman is just 12 weeks pregnant,
not yet swollen with her dark choice; the man
is taking bets and slurs alike out of the mouths
of the club’s members—rich and red-faced from the day’s

mint juleps. When the woman hands off dirty glassware
to the man, father of her child, she giggles, smacks him
on his great black ass. When she comes down
the last stretch, she’s been in front the whole race:

foal of Caro, violencing the dirt, the expectations
stamped into bets, at one point her odds 100-1.
When her neck clears the wire
into the known world, the dark trumpet begins to sound.


Quilt ‘n Frames

was what they called Charlie’s mule because its bones were like a rack its skin hung over. The mule had more sense than he did taking his drunk ass home every day, my grandmother says on the phone from Cleveland, a long way from Alabama now. She says when they’d been sewing for a while & the quilt had grown heavy as an animal’s coat, they would throw it over a wooden frame to keep it upright. Says she & the other women would sit on the porch, same time every evening, to see Charlie ride by on his way in from town—Landsville, where he’d go like all the other men after 13 hours in the field. He’d be stone-drunk & thrown over the back of that damn mule, she says which knew its way home & how to hold up a worked thing.


My Father Teaches Me About the Bees

before the scientists do. Our backyard
is his armchair. He rises from
the buried roots and tomato vines

to come see about us: Me, running. My honey-
dark baby sister—who I’ve just caught
stick-poking a hive stuck

to the side of our house—tangled
in my arms. He sees the world in us.
Knows the huge, abstract names

for emotions, when it comes to plants,
but not his own self. He stops me,
spins me nose-to-nose with him,

our top lips beaded with sweat. Says,
“What is it?!” “Bees!,” I squeak.
“BEES!” His eyes, erupt into a forest

fire: Don’t you know I am a bee. You: a bee!
they were surely saying. Today on a podcast
the entomologist says, honeybees are actually an invasive

species, in the sense that they don’t belong here… imported
by early European settlers, and—as he continues
talking about our solitary American

honeybee species brought over
for their weight in gold—
I want to hug my father, put an ear

to his hive-chest heart buzz. Whole ecosystems,
the country’s fauna, built through
our long blood. I want to listen

before it’s too late, remember always
what he said that day: “Don’t teach
your sister to fear the bees.”

How much fear sounds like destroy.

Joy Priest grew up in Louisville, Kentucky across the street from the world’s most famous horse-racing track. She is the 2018 Gregory Pardlo Scholar at The Frost Place, and has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown. Her poems and essays have appeared or are upcoming in numerous publications including Blackbird, Callaloo, espnW, Four Way Review, and the anthologies Best New Poets 2014, Best New Poets 2016, and The Breakbeat Poets. More from this author →