by Marissa Davis
Marissa Davis is a poet and translator from Paducah, Kentucky. Her original poems have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Duende, Verse of April, Rattle, The Iowa Review, and Sundog Lit. Her translations are forthcoming in Ezra and Mid-American Review. She will be pursuing an MFA in poetry at NYU as a Rona Jaffe Fellow beginning Fall 2019.
In the Beginning Was
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nose / ˈnəʊz /
(1) damnation. blood & gladiolus, the scent of Pink
lotion. see: denunciation of scalp; (2) no, the total body,
lacking possessives, trembling for white
smoke. (3) mute prayers to burn off the black—
like my grandmother before me, I torched
my face out of pictures; in life, repented
my skin to ash. synonym: to refuse the self
a provenance. what remained of me—perfume
of burnt flesh; (4) bone: the immodest septum.
ears / ˈ iɹz /
(2) verb: in aiming to protect,
to scorch. split-knuckled
after scrubbing granite in somebody else’s kitchen,
generations of mamas trill late-night canticles
in hot comb over baby-girl lobes. see: but you can’t say
nobody loved you. (3) as in: gal, how you not gonna
know what you come from? kinfolk phantoms
loose gospels of memory:
& a slavegirl’s stick, June earth
yields itself to letters. & the candle
is hallowed, knowing
the urgency of silence, its blaze
dim as a dogwood blossom.
her only lantern the open mouth
of a nightingale, its starsong
bowing paths through the black gum—a woman,
armful of baby & all her barefoot
nothing, runs south
from liquored fists.
& all the other hymns
their mouths call sleep-sick out the groundwater:
the one who wore pants to church
& wasn’t sorry for it. the one who squatted twins into tobacco green,
her thighs weaving bloodsongs over Carolina harvest.
the one who spent her military years
learning Shakespeare sonnets by heart in the heart
of the gold-shawed Rockies—decades & she’d chant them
to your mother’s belly. listen, listen:
you can’t say nobody loved you.
lips / ˈlipz /
(1) dry husk; red fruit dropping
from the split. praise be
to any wound learning how to reap
its voice, calling out for many kinds of water,
each one a synonym for inheritance:
shackle, sickle, crochet, conjure, ink.
(2) adjective: stained honeysuckle-sweet & nectaring
any language I wild them with—
say: vous. dis: y’all; sometimes, loyal to a music
I didn't know baptized my bones, my g’s & r’s
bloom Ebo wings. (3) bone-raising is the flashflood
voodoo amplitude, wide as Oshun’s thighs—
that luxe, that gilded; without knowing it, that likely to exhale
whatever flutters halfway between creation & prophecy. (4) each clap
thunderbolt & the genesis of my name. for yes I too am rain
& a language I am learning how to speak.
eyes / ˈ äz /
(1) I, as Beholder, do get it twisted
but behold: re-focus
where the moon calls the river back to claim
sun-seared floodplains; there blooms
afro-headed Heqet, night-hued & poised
to breathe spirit back into my arid form. (2) I eat the apple
& it tastes like a first oblation
to the pantheon of my body, exquisite,
spelled: a once-forbidden holiest word.
tongue / ˈtəŋ /
(1) on the left, tastebuds for blues.
on the right, tastebuds for praisesong.
(2) condensed rampage, revelation-slick, precisely the shape
of salvation—my mouth budded a whole muscle
just to wash an imperial lexicon
in my ancestral psalms. (3) verb form:
to lick the blood
honeying one's fingers.
& I am prepared to swallow flame.