I like repeating myself. That turn
of the glass to find your print.
It is like being called to
in the same exact way every Sunday.
During my second stay at Cypress Creek Hospital,
I held my journal of poems
of white salvation as ammunition.
Reclaiming yourself is a skill
like warring is a skill. The hull and mull
of the white space
in my stomach held a religious
ache. I didn’t sleep for days.
were a beating metronome, metamorphic
seasonings. To reclaim myself I promised this sinning
would save me.
I am war again.
Tried talking to a knife half-wanting
the husk to out-grow me. I won’t leave
things out. I would dream often
of turning a knife
into my brother, but he would carry on living
in my dreaming.
I only let N visit me.
He was always stronger than me.
On a drunken night, N taught me how to knife-fight
with a spoon in his living room.
My grandfather would carry with him
a razor in his boot
the size of his foot. When I pocketed N’s pistol
to his brother’s house,
I ended up hiding it in the back of his green truck
leaving the door unlocked. We drank so much of death
we passed the bread without crumbling.
But those mistakes are not gods—
but shards upswept from the concrete.
The broken think division will add to themselves.
The risk in the mining of diamonds.
The weight of his pistol
pulled me down like children begging. Finding family
in a psych ward
is like abuse feeding wounds.
Like switching places to better bare witness.
The turning ends where it begins.
Two men turning god over like an apple
in their hands. A cold yolk
teasing breaking. A sharp mirror warring itself
into a witness.
Giving Laura Grace
for Laura Nelson and her son L. D. Nelson
Like the time I mistook a bridge for a tree, I am
waiting for the poem to correct
me. Where afraid and ashamed
And all the swear-blood in me brews
in the fist of my stomach.
I wrote to you once before
So I won’t write about your lynched body anymore.
You are not my mother, so I have no moral
contract with you.
If I did, I’d probably still
only have stories for you.
Like in kindergarten when I punched a black
boy in the chest.
He punched me too,
and we cried together
as if this was our shared code for confession.
Or the story where
I was in the midst of a dirt-fight with a black boy
my size in a large open square
where a house would soon be built.
Our hands threw the sand through the air—
moving like a clapper in a bell. Where some
ended up in my throat and I choked on the little earths
lost in my mouth.
And my mother took a hot face-
towel to my tongue.
When I say earth, I mean God.
I’m sorry, but I think hurting something black
became a habit.
Maybe it was a living root bridge
is what I’d tell myself.
And maybe, black people are born with cedar seeds
I used to only believe in death by
habit. Yet, the sound
of a woman screaming still frightens me.
Though I promise not to martyr you or mother you,
I promise the same for L.D. too.
Next year, when I am older
and know better
I will visit Okemah, Oklahoma
And I will plant my hands in the soil
and slide my blood back into my wrist like a stubborn vein
and wait for your nothing.
for my grandfather Henry Pearl Stewart
the poem is better than me it breaks me in all my flesh- world places
something black in me broke felt like a crypt curse unbellying
light-seeds from my generic memory i speak to my grandfather
in the language of a breakdown
Henry Pearl Stewart— a man so stubborn he would pull out his loose teeth
with pliers like ruined potatoes rather than going to the dentist
they’d call him Pistol P. as though his magnum would accent his paragon
i’ve never been to Alabama except but to go through it the mapped south
stretches like a threshold going in and out an ouroboros
of heat-light in the cesarian-cruel land shrapnel is unearthed let’s go of our let go’s
i’d like to think all the dead are reasonable was his fear of snakes
unreasonable near his fear of being hung?—
Mattie Jones sings to the skull of Bull Connor beneath Bermudagrass
“and before I’ll be a slave, i’ll be buried in my grave”
the best way to expose grace is through singing and there’s a song
in the curse in the trees
Pearl’s lynched siblings Lily Crenshaw was drowned in Birmingham
Earl Stewart learned death from walking on the same side of the sidewalk
where a white woman was in Birmingham
i heard there was more but i don’t know their names yet
except Pearl said he left Birmingham because a woman put a Hoodoo curse
on him and not this because death is like this and like that.
as i try not to carry names as weapons or myth them into meaning
i must still learn myself alive trauma, like the poem must look both ways
to look at itself
what can stretch from the dead to living as an unbroken line break?—
and else what can you learn about affinity today?—
i love my grandfather’s hands he held a figure 8 over our heads
like two Christ-crowns— shame
on you Joshua for blowing yourself out of proportion like this
with your six-breakdown self you are no single thing— shame
let loose like a lynch in me
though i cannot live up to the expectation of black strength in blackness here i am
and thinking of this black insanity—
i must be forgiven somewhere for thinking blackness is the curse
i tied myself to Pearl a thin rope that snapped a branch bullied into submission
or like an 8 snaps again again—
Photograph of Joshua Burton by Raman Varma.