by Cyrus Cassells

1

Mister, from love’s keening distance,
I send you dread, discord,

A dead pauper’s
Unerring kiss, “double, double,

Toil and trouble”—the foraged
Bolts, welts, and buffoonish stitches

Of your own meandering,
Pell-mell Frankenstein;

From Lady Justice’s impeccable scales,
I bequeath you

A child’s flimsy cootie-catcher,
Opened to the words

Comb-over or Snake!—
A throwaway crown, a fake,

Fracked-to-the-hilt
Share of heirloom land,

Acres of unsellable real estate
On the very dissipated earth

You doggedly lacerated
And dismantled—

At an eleventh hour, when the lollygagging,
Wall-building, around-the-clock inanities,

 

2

And countless renegade cruelties
Have ceased to grow and cascade

Like Rapunzel’s hair,
And the glittering hourglass sands

Have nearly halted,
Apprentice felon, primetime charlatan,

Un-budging jester on the Hill,
May the emperor-is-naked folderol,

The blight of your slipknot reign,
Your slap-shrill tenure,

Shock your tattered soul in full…

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Maples Anticipating Their Autumn Colors,”  and  “My Only Bible


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

by Cyrus Cassells

Yoshi, at your sudden death,
What stays under my lids, in my body,

After decades: how we biked
The placid length of Kannonji,

Pedaling past ample rice fields
And Shikoku’s ramshackle docks,

The ragtag blue stacks
Of an imposing factory in the distance—

Beside an uphill shrine,
Its irrepressible maples anticipating

Their vibrant autumn colors,
We found an unlikely vendor

Hawking Cokes and gimcrack prayer beads,
His piped-in koto music

Sinuous among the pines,
A midsummer effort to conjure

The melancholy female ghost
Who lingered and sang on the glinting slope,

Her inescapable voice calling down a god
In the form of a crane,

Its white wings dripping
The cool water of Ursa Major—

 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: My Only Bible,”  and  “The Absence of the Witch Does Not Invalidate the Spell


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

by Cyrus Cassells

Is this blood-red joy
Of breathing beside you

And never divining
Your next beguiling voilà:

For instance, the nubile lemon
You culled in Sóller,

Brand new husband,
Shines, sun-blond and solid,

On the sill,
Pure as a murex shell

Or a nomad’s wish—
No wind whistles down

From the timeless sierra,
So after our solstice vows,

You press your apt citrus’s
Soothing, gently cooling rind

First to my lips,
Then my slightly sunburned nape—

Finally setting it to rest
On my shirtless torso;

With this honeymoon abracadabra
As nimble cue,

Let me linger and praise
The hermitage and gleaming groves

Above the cobbled village
Where your harlequin mother was born,

The gospel of bougainvillea
At your boyhood gate—the apotheosis,

Bridegroom, balm-giver,
Bell-clear dreamer,

Of your own full blossoming
And transfixing flair,

Of the soul’s endless, luxuriant
Coming and becoming…

 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Cyrus Cassells. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Cyrus Cassells debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Maples Anticipating Their Autumn Colors,”  and  “The Absence of the Witch Does Not Invalidate the Spell


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

my children thrive. whether i feed them or not. in this museum of tragedies. smudged handwriting of all your freedom songs. freedom prayers that do not translate into any language. smeared across walls. crawling out of equatorial fog mass. a bloom of tropical air lifts your hair into this dry horizontal wind. inside this house. a wind you deny. we love beneath bedraggled backyard roses. they too hold shadows. sadness in their petals. a slap of razor to the walls. whispering morning sorrow. becoming song for the death of things green. the eroticism of suede. bare sleek wood. glass balls hanging. steel bulbs. is not lost on me. i awaken in the center of the slave girl’s dream. not that one. but this new slave girl. in the center of her winter flower dream. in the center of white clustered petals. inside dark praying palms. fingerprints pressing hard against make believe wedding dress. a bouquet of nettle. primrose. queen anne’s lace. her life barely a whisper. barely a whimper. from the floorboards of an open book. her heart remembers all the flavors of danger. she married them all before in another dream. beneath canopies of thistle lace spread over burial grounds. singing wisteria. one legged sparrow. dagger-toothed womb. sassafras mouth. she married them all. in geeche swamps. moss covered lynching trees. houses built on rooster bones. liquor stills. cotton plants that cry when you touch them. my heart opens in the center of the new slave girl’s dream. where her vows are a shudder of blessed death. stronger than any other light she swallowed before. stronger than this dream dust. i birthed you in april. you were nobody’s apology. nobody’s unadorned table. you made the dying worth living. i am the scribe paid in silver. a shepherd girl. barely old enough to tell her story. she opens my hands. counts the silence. the emptiness inside each space of joint that is dead. breathless. my hands have emptied many wombs. cried for the remembrance of dead babies. lost shepherd girls. my hands now receive all the disguises of everything i have forgotten how to name. how to count. how to love.

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Communion of White Dresses”  and  “For the lover who eats my poems


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

I write for these sounds of bruised whispers. Lovely indigo painted hands. Sea-washed coral brocade covers shuddering loveliness. I gasp for mercy. Scarred rainbows leave a trail of ladies-in-waiting. Trails of spent ripeness. Trails of skin so close I can hear it breathe bleed fruit into lush. It is an evening of breaking branches that we will bandage at sunrise.  Your tongue is a beckoning forest.  Star-lit. Liquid whole face conjuring a delectable pilgrimage. My hair is the only map you need. Coarse uncharted navigation deep into this tangled web of throttle rhythm infinite symphonies horizons of songs. We are tangled in binding breath to prayer. Our history of sound becomes a snare drum. A decoration of ancestral thrust. A declaration of the summer when we were full of tongues kinky mornings. You prefer a feast of hair but I offer neck shoulders a delicacy of sleepless wrists singing ribs and dangerous unhinged ankles and feet. A smile holding seven seas and unmentionable continents. We wade through a millennium of oceans tropical spasms fierce star bursts. We have stolen this land this cocoon of earth for harvest deliverance birthing of new face new love new skin. It is not a shackled dance. It is not a voodoo hoodo dance. It is not a midnight flower we bring screaming head first into this world. It is all the voices you sewed inside my heart. It is all the nights of mothers waiting. It is all the Decembers of a son’s lynching. It is all the mornings swept clean of hungry ghosts. It is all the love we can carry beneath our tongues. A tenderness so wanton it lashes petals wind the inside outside of our house. Here is the place to sow. Here is the space to scalp mercy siphon full moon mirror. We are this tangled confession. Blazing bare shadows. A treason of midriffs. Honey-laced thighs. Uncouth sighs. Neon heartbeats… and in this while it is enough to slide my fingers down into a stammering heartbeat and wait for you to become my primal scream. We breathe a soundless tsunami. We become the oak covering our windows. Our roots collapsing with thunder rising beneath masked skins and a rain that claims us. 

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Communion of White Dresses” and “Stillbirth.”

 


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

 

by Jaki Shelton Green

In my dreams, I am all the women in generations of white dresses white Sundays

that cover altars in all the hushed seams of white linen.

White gloves lift, pour, sift whispered prayers across crystal cups. Blood becomes bread.

I learn to lift white dresses over my head careful not to disturb the pleats that will soon

be crushed by hungry hands. What is the difference between standing, pouring blood

down the throats of phantom believers and kneeling before the parched lips of a nameless lover?

White dresses bear secrets in the neckline, along hem stitches. White dresses remember the

language of hands lifting, stretching, folding them into the froth of a cloud forest.

I am the shadow of all the white dresses hidden. I am the ghost of all the white dresses

remembering the stretch of a daughter’s shroud. The dance of another daughter’s wedding veil.

I am the tears that hold the needles steady while grandmothers stitch a Rapunzel of sky. I am 

breath that is caught in the fragrance of a mother’s hair. White communion dresses wade in the

holiness of a forced faith that does not rhyme with my name. I become red fierce bloody ocean

swallowing a procession of white dresses at dawn. Rapunzel Rapunzel let down your hair.

Come dance in the cloud forest. Come dress the nymphs in your long silky strands. Come lift the

skirts of thirsty virgins. Stand beneath the altar to catch all the white dresses that they are casting

into the wind. My shoulders sigh under the reluctance of stiff coarse white dresses woven with

shards of prisms so tight the waist becomes a prison. I want to undress my Sunday body for slow

patient redressing of Saturday night black lace. Black sweat. A Black promise to erase this white

stain. White dresses become harsh smears. Confessional cages. White dresses on my skin remind

me of the unraveling of crows hiding in the elderberry tree. Hiding all things shiny. All things

unborn to a womb of ink. This is the tightness inside the throat of a white dress that pulls stitches

tighter. That threaten mutiny. I am the night walker in white. I am the song of the legend of the

woman in the white cloud forest who is known to eat the lace from her sleeves her collars her

buttons. White dresses become succor for a timeless famine. White dresses. White doves. White

stones. White crosses. White veils. I am the one chosen to commit. Conceal. Execute. Reveal.

Undress the sorcery. Betrayal. Acquisition. Acquittal. The dowry of white dresses.

The violence of white dresses….

Cover me tenderly.

 

Poem copyright 2021 by Jaki Shelton Green. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Jaki Shelton Green debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Stillbirth,” and “For the lover who eats my poems…

 


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

Variation 2: How to Travel

by Brenda Marie Osbey

city of palms
palms and brick
sugar
indigo
palms and live oak, cypress, pine and nànier –
city veiled in sweet olive, night jasmine, rose, mimosa
breathing azalea, camellia, oleander
city blooming straight from swamp
bamboo and black willow flat upside the
noisesome votives of human sweat, dung of pack animals –
the pound and slip and cloy of the far too many funky corner dives.

should you chance to come to my city
pray do not be taken in by the vaunted allure of the place
storied beauty of so many dark women –
men darker still –
do not tarry along the various and sundry water bodies that will seem
to rock you, coddle, contain you for a song.
at all costs, keep to outer edges of all narrow public walkways.
if you can help it, do not walk at all.
keep birth certificate, at least one passport
exactly one set of keys always among yourselves and always at the ready.
if you must drive
then
lock yourself snugly – always – inside your car your companion’s car the nearest taxi, any seeming suitable and available vehicle or secure building
bearing in mind that few buildings here ever are secure.
obey warnings read signs
many, though by no means all of which will read:
we cannot, will not be responsible for loss of life
nor any truer, more costly valuables.

travelers. travelers so often find themselves spat up
slim pickings from oh-so-lovely pearlescent teeth of small bands of natives
– wanton waste but true –
for lack of sufficient savor and spice
wanton

connoisseurs of known and of unknown delicacies
we
finger fond memories of cane liquor and sugar-tit
sweet-oil and blackest softest earth
innards and outtards gristle and bone
we
suffer from so great a wealth
of hungers
as never to grow quite full or fat or oily enough
true. all true.
the lies you have heard about my city – thoroughly simply unmistakably true.

(we still do
go at times to lake lagoon bayou-water sea  
to count
whether by head or feet excised organ or vulnerable member
our own long-captured-tortured-most-violently-anciently
discarded
on whose behalf, it happens, i appeal to you now):

attend to your your health.
at the very least keep sanitary. keep well. travel safe. stay alive.
do not chance it.

do not tarry in this city cursed and consecrated
for all its beckon and seeming beauty
the wildness
of its children
its waters
streets and street corners

ours is far too
great a hunger

we are far too many women of far too many shades of black
too lovely to be safe – and men as lovely as that
oaks and roses
tall tipsy pines
black willow
mimosa
bamboo shirring
too many
great palms and far too

many many funky dives.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from  Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Fieldwork,” and “In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of these Parts.”


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

From Virginia Suite

by Brenda Marie Osbey

1.
the grave is silent.
so much for the vanity of the living
we all are here
have been here
just beneath the redder earth
surrounding all this land with all our bones
nimble fingers
humming
and the rest

in canada, they say, the negroes all are free
so goes the song
or think we are, i tell myself
or think we are

the very idea that some negress – one such as yourself is how they say it –
should work for her own keep –
without the favor of some white man is what they mean
or pity of his pious wife and daughters
nor only work but
prosper well enough to take on workers
not for their lives’ blood as they do, no
but for right pay
and land to work
and burying-ground besides.

2.
over out near gospel hill
the gentlemen, they say, are nervous again.
and we here in lesser canada have no doubt what they do mean.

southeast to southampton no one asks slave or free
hacking negroes right and left comes very nigh a special calling,
what in the wake of that saviour whose name no one dare speak:
puts me in mind, says hester, of that other time
all other times when ones
such as myself still could
hear
some prophet wailing from out the wailing rushes

exactly what
after all
is
a free negro?

3.
my annie went down with the boys
looking i suppose to catch wild
things as children do
some while ago, says hester
land just back from there
all but fire-red with the blood of wild things

i sew and sew.

4.
my bones often think of hester’s just nearby.
wild things she’d said.
she was the first to go.
rheumatism lit a fever in her that never did die out
two of the men found her when they come out from the smokehouse
and carried her here to my bed where i
could see to her proper
she’d tended to my mother when her time came and i was born
tended me when mother went
and again when my three came.
first true thing i ever did buy was hester’s ease and comfort.
how dear it is, she she said that morning, to be my own woman now and free
and so she stayed
her small house but a few good strides from here
fire burning every day she lived:
keep off that devil cold from these poor bones

then she was gone.

and we are none of us freer living than any one dead colored woman.
that much i know i learnt from hester.

how long ago was that?

5.
they have dug all around now beneath the main house
unearthing pots, buttons, fireplaces, timbers
old women’s keepsakes, children’s treasures
shards of lives
unearthing and replanting hester, me and all the rest
such care they take
– every little thing –
such tenderness now that we are gone –
or so they tell themselves –
i feel these bones lean out to hester’s from the cold red clay
blood-earth
blind-stitching
prophets’ wailing
bones of wild things

not so very far they are planting native gardens
terraces
fountains rising from our old half-buried stream
that sometimes flooded over
sometimes not
cutting through bloodied blood red earth
cutting through this one small plot –
briefest sanctuary
home and work
laughter and sweet communion
smallest respite against so many martyrs on the way
burying-ground
and sweetest freedom

hear tell there will be feasting and much singing comes the spring
prayers tossed up around near gospel hill
and all those other blood red holy hills

and now that we are neighbors to that great institution
who ever will tell what only we could tell?
who knows the cost of what we bought and paid for?
who dares to tell the cost of mr jefferson’s
own sweet dream
and higher calling
for this upper country:

a plan so broad so liberal and so modern
so much to raise the envy
of even these learnèd few who serve its noble and enviable aim:
illimitable freedom
of the human mind

just so
just here
straight-stitched
remnants
of our own once thriving enterprise
bones of free women
this bit of land
wild things.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: City of Palms and Funky Dives”  and  “Fieldwork


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

From Virginia Suite

by Brenda Marie Osbey

In Commemoration of the Discovery of the Remains of 67 African Americans, Interred beyond the Walls of the University Cemetery at the University of Virginia

“that excluding students … enslaved African Americans were the largest pre-Civil War population residing at the Academical Village.”

remove topsoil
cater close to the principle 
of uncovering both common and uncommon past
monitor closely ensuing slow dig and soft-brushed stroke –
now inherent tools of this body of knowledge intending to reveal
whatever of human society remains
to be revealed
beneath
below
tin wood and brick
ceramicware
long anonymous cloth and bits of iron, nail
spindle and spoon
tooth
quarry stone
bone and shard
women men children
useful things
of everyday life
beneath
beyond.

cemetery no doubt in other languages also
is a graceful word
death we know
and sometimes causes, multiple causes of said deaths;
burial, means or styles of conveyance to places of burial of those dead.
measuring proximity of bodies singly and adjacent or cutting one upon another
tells something of various indicators of longtime burial practice in
specific or approximate or conjectured place.
cumulative patterns of expression and material culture of souls, however,
is an area with which neither this present and ongoing study 
nor any science we yet know of
claims so far to be equipped to deal.
interviews with known or presumed descendants can perhaps expose
basic knowledge of belief, practice
concepts of death
desire 
afterlife
beyond.

slaves here are called servants
many who write and talk such things do
say that mr jefferson himself did call it so
it does not change the conditions under which we labor
within these bounds
the uses we are put to
the ways we die
for keep of these grounds

did call himself father to all this we build and tend
did look on slavery – they like to tell –
as but one necessary evil.
did not say the others –
war mayhap

in our way it is as children gone with tetanus and pneumonia
women gone birthing
strapping men felled down in typhoid or the consumption:
violet, william and boy-bacchus
tessa’s hannah
vanalie smothered, sleeping – we all did hope –
strong mike and billy
tom young and handsome then bloated over with the filthy bile
limas old but also here with us and not alone
eliza and baby eliza almost together
woman over broadus’ place
some over maupin and perrow way. 

unknown they write and put away in ledger and book
unknown
but not to those who love and tend them in the end
not by us
not by rust-red earth
soft-brushed by hands that carry and tend
and sometimes pray
sometimes not.                                  

as much science as we now possess
it is yet difficult to advise beyond further study,
determination for remains other than ancient bearing far more upon the living
than we are at present
prepared to suppose.

sixty-seven is no small number.
nor is the body neither less nor more than the soul’s own passage.
for here some have the one-soul and others the many
some return straightaway to ancestors
while others live on even as the body itself gives way
such knowledge comes in those earliest nights
when living and dead go to meet one another
go out of an evening
to sit and talk good talk.
these things are sacred.
and it is worse than wicked to disturb those going to talk well with their own.
grave evil to prevent them from keeping
good company with their own dead.

in this place here is wickedness unimagined
except to those
who have no soul
no dead to call home
no ancestor to guide and receive them

sixty-seven is no small number
and no one of us can make a home
where ancestors do not also live.

it is well to consider
that research design is one language,
reverence another

it is well to consider
how further study in concert with broader nearer communities
than these esteemed colleagues
may impinge upon the potential weight of disinterment
of removing for analysis at this time
remains largely anonymous
yet long consigned

time to come
drums yet may beat soft and low:
tessa’s hannah
billy, strong mike
beat soft beat low
william
tom, young and handsome still
bacchus, violet
beat soft beat low
liza and baby liza
old limas rooted deep as cypress close by
surveying
beyond what-all remains of this green
embowered wood
sweet-sleeping vanalie waking only to dream again
feast-days to come
beat soft beat low
the evils of this place hardly more than memory trailing
and neither slave nor servant then
but as we are
in these our truest skins
together
soft now and low
inside this silty red
and clayey soil.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: City of Palms and Funky Dives” and “In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of These Parts.”


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

 

by Nikki Giovanni

My goldfish are finding
winter homes under slabs
in the pond

Mother gold fish birthed
and hid four babies
this summer

they were not eaten
by birds
or their fathers

the heater is on

its my contribution
to mother nature

I have aired my quilts
and washed my blankets I will cuddle

with my dog
a good book and with any luck
a cup
of Frontier Soup

finding
my winter home

 

Poem copyright 2020 by Nikki Giovanni. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Nikki Giovanni debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: January 26, 2020” and “Vines.”

 


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