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Broken Ghazal for Walter Scott
You can't write poems about the trees when the woods
are full of policemen.
A video looping like a dirge on repeat, my soul--a psalm of bullets in my back.
I see you running then drop heavy hunted like prey with eight shots in the back.
Again, in my Facebook feed another black man dead, another fist in my throat.
You: prostrate on the green grass with handcuffed hands on your bleeding back.
Praises for the video, to the witness & his recording thumb, praises to YouTube
for taking the blindfold off Lady Justice, dipping her scales down with old weight
of strange fruit, to American eyeballs blinking & chewing the 24-hour news cycle:
another black body, another white cop. But let us go back to the broken tail light,
let's find a man behind on his child support, let's become his children, let's call
him Papa. Let us chant Papa don't run! Stay, stay back! Stay here with us. But Tiana--
you have got to stop watching this video. Walter is gone & he is not your daddy,
another story will come to your feed, stay back. But whisper--stay, once more,
with the denied breath of his absent CPR, praise his mother strumming Santana
with tiny hallelujahs up & down the harp of his back. Praise his mother holding
the man who made her son a viral hit, a rerun to watch him die ad infinitum, again
we go back, click replay at any moment. A video looping like a dirge on repeat--
The Frequency of Goodnight
The duende is not in the throat:
the duende surges up, inside,
from the soles of the feet.
-Federico García Lorca
Like so many nights of my childhood
I lived inside the fishbowl
of a one-bedroom apartment,
waited for my mother to come home
(from her second job). As a waitress
she wore orthopedic shoes for flat feet.
All her uniforms blur together: IHOP,
Red Lobster, Rainforest Café, Shoney's...
This is how she tucked me in--
jingle and clack of keys
would turn the doorknob open
allow me to fall asleep.
She tucked me in-- not with blankets
or a kiss on the forehead,
but with locking the door behind her.
My single mother would take those big,
boxy shoes off, unhook her bra
(too tired to take it all the way off)
and eat the left over pizza
I had ordered for dinner.
Television shadows flickered
her exhausted frame, smell
of other people's food on her skin,
crumpled ones, fives, and tens
fanned out of her server book.
I heard the change from bad tippers
like hail on the kitchen counter.
Maybe for other children
the purr of the air conditioner, the sound
of a ceiling fan whisking the darkness,
or the steady neon glow of a nightlight
set their dreams ablaze?
But for me, hearing those keys
slipped me under the wing
of my mother's white noise.
Let me begin again,
when I was a waitress during college,
I had the shoes that doctors and nurses
wore to support their posture.
Saturdays I worked doubles,
toward the end of my two shifts
my pace would slow--
as I made laps around my tables,
picked up half eaten sandwiches,
grabbed wadded napkins with chewed
gristle. When we closed,
I'd be on my hands and knees,
as I swept litter from the day,
collected broken-off ends of French fries,
dislodged pucks of used gum,
dragged swollen and leaky trash bags
to the dumpster.
Bone heavy and body tired--
I would come home,
take those heavy wooden clogs off.
Turn on some show and listen
to the cadence of dialogue
like a metronome tipping my head
to the baptism of sleep.
Let me begin again,
The first dead body I ever saw
was my grandmother. Alzheimer's--
My mother said, She always left
that old TV on while she slept...
damn frequencies messed with her head.
If I focus now, I can still see my mom
asleep in her uniform on the couch--
feet propped up, open pizza box
dappled in grease stains.
I would tiptoe and turn off the television,
slink back to our bedroom.
This is how I tucked her in.
This is how we said goodnight.
Hair Relaxer: an Origin Story
...never to look a hot comb in the teeth.
You came into this world, creamy--full of alkali and burn,
like a baby born of hard labor. Ruler of all things straight
and acceptable. You made kinky your nemesis, fought
genetic bend of curls. Cold lotions brush-stroked the Afro
on our heads inside of our hearts to bloom. Wait for it...
scratch of matchsticks ignited on the scalp. Wait for it...
sting of water pressure on the fleshy bottom of new scabs.
I was seven when it first happened to me. Told mama,
I wanted my hair to swing like the white girls in my school!
I cried at the shampoo bowl, thought pain would make me
beautiful. Learned to suck it up, keep it in, tucked and folded
like origami. Blow dryer wiped those tears away. Salon girl
said, Ohhh, we got it so straight this time! Singe, on the teeth
of a hot comb forged from the European Gods of smooth metal.
Swipe from root to unruly tip. Rise of smoke--from the kindling
of burnt black hair. Rise of smoke--smogging the salons and
kitchens from coarse haired daughters and mothers. Rise of smoke--
from the altar of our vanity. All the wavy hair I broke like the back
of a slave into submission, into black yarn I knew inside me grew
to find my way out of this chemical labyrinth. Out of wanting boys
to glide their wanting hands through my straight hair, out of my
own Minotaur of self-hatred, but I slayed the beast of pretty!
Took my hair inch by inch like the yarn of Theseus to find my
way back to my little self, back to my baby pictures with a fro-pik
in my hair, to the bounce, the spring in every coil. Rain, I am not
afraid of you. Let the water take me back to curls. Let the water
be gospel, brown hydrangea, my grandmother's silver cotton boll,
my auntie's cornrows, my mother's hands kneading almond oil
in my scalp like coating a cast iron pan to shiny black patina. I came
into this world greasy, full of thick psalms. Let the water take me back.
BIO: Tiana Clark is the author of the poetry chapbook Equilibrium, selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition sponsored by Bull City Press. She is the winner of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. Tiana is currently an MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University where she serves as Poetry Editor for Nashville Review. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Sewanee Review, Rattle, Best New Poets 2015, Crab Orchard Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Offing, Grist Journal, and elsewhere.
Tiana grew up in Nashville and southern California. She is a graduate of Tennessee State University where she studied Africana and Women's studies. She has received scholarships to The Sewanee Writers' Workshop, The Frost Place Poetry Seminar, and The New Harmony Writers Workshop. Tiana has recently been awarded funding from the Nashville Metropolitan Arts Commission for her community project, Writing as Resistance, which provides creative writing workshops for trans youth.