by Tyehimba Jess

Looking into the mouth of this poem,
I’m stranded on the breakneck teeth,
the gap toothed song I’ve forged
between breaths, the neon
no-tell motel of personal history
paying flop house rent to my ego:
Thunderbird Inn on 87th & Stony Island Ave
where I fondled the darkness that was full
of my sweet dread headed woman’s lips,
the one who knew all the rooms
and anterooms to my lying ass
lies better than myself — her open door
policy to my revolving hellos.  I breathed
in the scent of her hair like my own
private opiate for my own private mass,
and the cathedral of X-rated channels
bathing us in everything we knew
we could sing against the water-
stained ceiling. I’d like to tell you
this scene in the liquid bass
of the box-and-bubble Caprice
snaking through the parking lot
lights: She’s searching my body
for truth within the cottage industry
of Saturday Night moan filtering through
the shallow sheetrocked walls, and
I’ve got the blackout curtains shut
against Chicago’s muffled stars.
I’m raising her hips above me
like a fool’s crowning glory,
like she might know the way back
through the city’s grid-ironed streets
to where we first found ourselves
lakeside, staring at the moon,
stunned before the mouth
of the universe that was set
to kiss us whole.

 

 

 

Poem copyright 2019 by Tyehimba Jess. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Tyehimba Jess debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
Tatum Summer”  and  “It’s Tie-EEM-bah


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tyehimba Jess

thank you. Taken from an African
Name Book, bought from a Black
book store. Translated from Tiv
people, dog-eared and pen-marked,
it climbed out from the body
of the book like a glistening dare:
We stand as a nation. I claimed
testament to the world I wanted
to create in a foreign language
from a nation I’d never visited,
whose kin shipped across the Atlantic
in my blood before it was my blood,
and awaited me in Chicago, peering out
from the book’s black ink, staring me down,
rolling consonants between tooth
and tonsil, swallowing my father’s
name, trying to spit out all my American
history like rotted meat. I sheltered
my runagate name beneath my mouth’s roof,
I turned my back on my slaver’s whip
of Goodwin, my sainted psalm of Stephen,
I chopped off my father’s and
Grandfather’s e and I salvaged
the Jess.  I am all that is left,
strung between two tongues,
between Bible and buried pasts.
I’ve carried the name like a brand
I sear into the air, bearing me
from town to town, woman to woman,
love to love, job to job,
poem to poem, bar to bar,
failure to failure, luck to luck.
I’ve been arrested with it, acquitted with it,
praised with it and dogged by it.
I’ve tailor made this name
I’ve scrawled across my being,
I’ve wallowed in its syllables
till it chewed me into this
gristle of a wish you hereby witness.
And let me tell you it tastes good,
this poem I’ve made of my me,
even when I’m beaten and low
I know the sound of freeing my tongue
to write my own black history.

 

 

 

 

Poem copyright 2019 by Tyehimba Jess. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Tyehimba Jess debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
Nap Rates Available” and “Tatum Summer.”

 


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tyehimba Jess

The summer I lost you
it was Art Tatum all
the time. His rootworked
notes filling in the spaces
I couldn’t bear, his near-blind
never-fumbling grope,
his cataract visioned
Tenderly beating its head
against my walls, telling me
who I should have been,
how I should have danced,
how the light coming through
the window wanted to sound
like your laughter splaying
closely in my darkness.
He played over and over
ad infinitum on my stereo
in the summer I left you,
a Brooklyn summer
of broken promise. I bumbled
through to fall, spilling bone
-hallowed rags through this brain
trying to screw itself open to a love
that glows like his blinding
-speed runs in his looping,
black and white bravery,
his sacred spill into sunlight
through shadow. My summer
tore open with Tatum’s
fingers moving sound into
just enough dawn to lean
on, angles of twist, pirouettes
of tone I tried to lace
into my broken laughter,
into the song of myself
I found I could only hear
in a key I’d left buried
in the heat of stars
we’d counted together
in an arpeggio
of winter sky.

 

 

Poem copyright 2019 by Tyehimba Jess. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Tyehimba Jess debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
It’s Tie-EEM-bah,” and “Nap Rates Available.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Marilyn Nelson

Open-mouthed, we survey and appraise what is left.
The crushed stove. Our mattress. Part of a wall.
Intact, the table around which we laughed
so recently, glasses of tea aloft.
What can we do, but surrender to a higher will?

 

Poem copyright 2018 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Marilyn Nelson debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
“Almost Sisters” and “Big Sister.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Marilyn Nelson

For L. F.

Daughter, this is my daughter, my dad said.
He put the new baby into my arms.
She was beautiful, as small as a doll,
a warm package with long black eyelashes
and tiny fists with teensy fingernails.
She’d suddenly appeared from wherever
babies come from, maybe from a stork’s egg?
And here she was, my own little sister,
for me to play with and tell stories to:
the baby sister I’d asked Jesus for.
I could hardly take my eyes off of her face.
My dad gave me a push. Go on, he said;
take her to your mother. My mother’s eyes
narrowed with rage I didn’t understand.

Poem copyright 2018 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Marilyn debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
Almost Sisters” and “Kismet.”

 


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Marilyn Nelson

For L. L.

My half-sister, my stepsister, and I
slept on wall-to-wall mattresses
in a room that had no hiding places
but in our heads and under our blankets.
Averted eyes were our only privacy.
I never really liked my step-sister.
My half-sister was cute, but she told lies.
A marriage we’d had nothing to do with
bound us together, three sister strangers,
running the gauntlets at home and at school.
Life is no situation comedy.
For years we overheard sex noise and fights.
My sort-of-sisters left when my parents split.
I had my own room starting in seventh grade.

 

 

Poem copyright 2018 by Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Marilyn Nelson debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
Big Sister”  and  “Kismet.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Kwame Dawes

Our bodies carry so many deceptions —
how easily the ritual of seasons
becomes us. It is wintering now
which means the tawny grass
is not an aberration; it is instead
the confirmation of rest, and so
it is with these hidden bodies.
I want to ask you if you will
not wear scarfs over your head
at predawn, on the road filled
with trigger-nervous Patriots —
this is the fear of our rituals.
Winter is the season of disguise;
we cover ourselves and become
a tribe of woolen fabrics — maybe
I can read your skin in your
walk. On deep, deep nights,
having idled until midnight,
the weekend ahead, I look at these
photographs of black folk gathered
around a piano — how secure
the imagined sweetness of sound
in the open mouths. And still
I know that beneath the fabric
there is the violence of nakedness,
and everybody is a corpse; is
this the language of grace?

Poem copyright 2018 by Kwame Dawes. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Kwame Dawes debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle:
The Tent of Gladness and The Middle Classes


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt