Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Arriel Vinson





When I told him I don’t give blowjobs on my knees

he said, here you go with that
feminist shit, deemed my demands
for equality as insatiable.
I told him he was no God.

He ain’t create the stars
and sun, fish and bread.
Told him he too hellbent
on misunderstanding,

‘Cause only one holy name
can demand that I bow, hands clasped
around Him, shuddering with ghosts,
my divine tongue oscillating in praise.

And when I told him to vote opposite
the anti-abortion candidate in his city,
he asked, but what is the other
candidate’s plan for Black people?

I didn’t remind him that state control
of me is state control of him,
that under God we performed ablutions,
asked for blessings, forgiveness,

jumped the broom
that laid in the church closet,
vowed to unspool ourselves
and become one.

We didn’t pray together that night.
I kneeled, hands joined at my chest,
swayed like a pendulum
as I spoke with God.

This is the part of the poem
where I’m expected to be honest

about how many times I begged
him to consider my existence.

I lost count.
I was taught that begging
long enough will teach
someone to listen.

In other words, I was ravenous.
But even after God told me
to leave the first time,
there I was again,

spreading my unsanctified mouth wide.


Night Terrors

When I sleep poorest,
I’m reminded of him.

How every three hours
my body was a clock.

Sat erect in my black bedroom,
checked his location,

our bank account,
that my hands had stopped

shaking, that I’d fallen
asleep for at least ten minutes.

Most people have night terrors,
I know, how it trembles from sleep,

jolts from slumber,
and sometimes, I praise my mind

for its ability to forget
the monster it aroused

the night before.
Sometimes, I pray

he has recovered,
keeping money in his wallet

instead of stacked blue and red
chips, tremors vibrating through him.

When I sleep poorest,
the dream recurs.

I’m wearing an ivory dress,
much like the one now hanging

in a consignment shop,
foundation the wrong hue,

face peeling like an orange,
and every time I touch

the pieces, they slip out
of my hands.

The whole dream, I’m running
through a wedding venue,

dress hiked up to my knees,
searching for him.

No one wants to read
about loving someone

who sometimes becomes someone
else, I know, because no one wants to remember

how it splattered them
on the floor, limbs sprawled

and gangly, gripping at the carpet,
stomach clawing from the insides.

I get it. But this is a poem
saying night terrors and loving

a stranger are one and the same.
I’m saying, each time I dreamt,

I was running and sweating
and searching for someone different.


Photograph of Arriel Vinson by Reece T. Williams.

Arriel Vinson is a Tin House Winter Workshop alumna and Hoosier who writes about being young, Black, and in search of freedom. She earned her MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Kweli Journal, Catapult, Waxwing, Electric Literature, and others. Her work has also been nominated for Best New Poets 2020, Best of the Net 2019, and a Pushcart Prize. She is a 2019 Kimbilio Fellow and 2020 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest semifinalist. More from this author →