Miles A.M. Collins-Sibley is Senior Poetry Editor for Cosmonauts Avenue and 2017-2019 co-host for the jubilat / Jones Reading Series. They graduated from Smith College with a degree in Africana Studies and is currently a MFA candidate at UMass Amherst's program for Poets & Writers. They write poems in their black, queer, disabled voice and all of their poems are political. Especially after white boys read them. Their poems can be found or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Felt, Split Lip Press, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Poetry.org.
This poem was longlisted for the 2018 Peach Gold in Poetry with guest judge Morgan Parker.
by Miles A.M. Collins-Sibley
Interlude in Mama’s Mouth
Peekin out from under Mama’s tongue
Babygirl’s hands are
gripping Mama’s bottom coffee-stained canine.
Her words stumble
over the tunes Babygirl strums with her toes
on the membrane stretched between Mama’s tongue
and the bottom of her mouth.
Joan Osborne and Boys II Men Babygirl’s played
for hours now.
And she floats awash in turmeric tea
with honey Mama drinks when her mouth is sore.
Babygirl lounges in the pocket
between Mama’s gum-covered jaw bone and the fleshy inside
of her cheek
while she teaches Their Eyes are Watching God
to early-morning sleepy-eyed crumpled sweatshirts.
No more awake than
Babygirl is, nestled
next to a lemon-ginger cough drop.
Mama slips a curry and cumin stained
spoon just past her lips
so Babygirl can taste, with lil fingernails hooked
on the rough-grained wood edge.
Needs more salt,
Babygirl’s soft voice floats from Mama’s mouth.
At least, for my taste.
Babygirl helps Mama fix a broken strand
of hand-carded, hand-spun, hand-plied
deep-blue sheep’s wool;
Mama’s spit, Babygirl’s hands felting
They twist it back together, together.
Babygirl’s body is shifting Mama’s teeth
and her dentist chides her.
Her annual check-up scheduled for 3 days
after the night Babygirl became small again
and slipped between Mama’s parted,
You’re a considerate child, Mama said,
when she woke up
to find her first-born
nestled in the world of her mouth,
Dentist clicks his teeth and stares.
My child is dancing
under my tongue! She says.
My teeth must change to make room!
It was the only place to go!
But her dentist sighs
Is this what black mamas let their children do?
Babygirl’s knees wear cold-sores
just behind Mama’s front teeth
where Babygirl kneels and peaks out to watch
British mystery specials and
Mama’s tongue is dry from weeks of gentle
so Babygirl doesn’t suffocate.
because she birthed Babygirl once.
The muscles of her tongue
never meant to push out a child.
Babygirl’s gotta climb out