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1 poem

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:


                           beneath midnight                  

                                                                             & 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: vousdis: 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.

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