Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Quenton Baker





from Ballast


and then what?
                                                                this ship deranges the sea

every break and swell is rupture in mosaic/
every step in anticipation of ordinance
a black-on-black collage of refusal



                                                                we cry out to salt
home in the non-place of non-being
                                                                beseech black ligature of wave
                                                                to build us a new commons
                                                                move away from the dire selection of elective drowning

we do not rejoice in invasion preference or re-brand of prison logic

we are black along a breach axis property
birthed enormous/
uterine warehouse in a universe of escalation

                                                                bullet hold the lash for when it see us
                                                                chimerical warden of the borderlands/
                                                                            willing architect of an obliterating literature

                                       we keep time within a flagellated firmament of skull/
                                       beloved bone woven into ancestral garments
                                       both of and to protect from a lacerating chronology




broken from out the middle/
                                       our mouths be the o
                                                                in cog

                                                                             love in us:

                                                                                                                               then blemish

                                                                             kept and bled


and then
                                                                            blacker still




to be a body
                                                                           tied to season

is to be
a glitched wilderness/

                                                                   bent catalog of escape


to be
out from an outerself


                                                                             in the burrow



                                                                             in the tunnel

between tunnels

                                                                                          we sit


a mosaic of self-theft
                                                                           ear to walls of wood and dirt

                                                                           to hear the secret language of cold salt
                                                                           to echo louder than our cost
pressed                                                             in calm cursive




and then what?

                                                                i beg within

              for a price

                                                                bent bodies
                                                                form languid/

                                                                illegible calligraphy


i write the field open
while buried beneath it
                                                                while harried inside it
                                                                banging on monied stalk
                                                                sack of labor


                                                                we write the ocean over
                                                                end of wave
                                                                end of rotten hull

the last thing
salt sees

                                                                big with sinew
                                                                lithe and gone


Photograph of Quenton Baker by Dean Davis.

Quenton Baker is a poet, educator, and Cave Canem fellow. His current focus is anti-blackness and the afterlife of slavery. His work has appeared in The Offing, Jubilat, Vinyl, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. He has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Southern Maine and is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. He is the recipient of the 2016 James W. Ray Venture Project Award and 2018 Arts Innovator Award from Artist Trust, and is a 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Artist in Residence. He is the author of This Glittering Republic (Willow Books, 2016). More from this author →