THE BODY IN AUGUST (2010)
Because when I was a child, God would pull me up into her lap. Because when she sat me in her lap, She would read to me. Because the story she read most was the one I liked least. Because every day She’d open that thin green book and say This is the story of your life. Because from beginning to end there were only three pages.
I believe in that road that is infinite and black and goes on blindly forever. I believe crocodiles swallow rocks to help them digest crab. Because up until the 20th century people could still die from sensation. And because my hunger is so deep I’m ashamed to lift my head.
Because memory – not gravity–pins us to this trembling. And when God first laid eyes on us, She went mad from shame. Because if the planet had a back door we’d still be there, waiting for the air to approve our entry. Because your eyes were the only time the athirium said yes to me. Because no matter how many times I died, I always woke up again – happy.
Then last night, after I’d yelled at him for the first time, my new son dreamt we went walking inside the trees. When we came across a squirrel, he said, I’d kicked it. Then the squirrel changed into a thin green book, which we read.
Because when God became a small child I pulled Her up into my lap. Because when I pulled her into my lap, to please Her, I opened my blouse. Because Her mouth is an impossibly pink place, a gaping raw cathedral, which She opened, teeth-to-nipple, then clamped down.
MOTHER CHURCH NO. 3
(Kin Kletso/”Yellow House”
Chaco Canyon, San Juan County, New Mexico
Anasazi Ruins, 1125-1130 AD)
for Henri-Raphael, at 2
You step down into the Flat World
Then ask me to say it, to explain
How our name can mean both ancestor
And enemy. Your body begins in four directions.
Here one calendar takes eighteen years.
I am three. One day is an eyelash.
Your body is a segment of prehistoric road,
A buried stairwell with only the top stair obvious.
We are alluvial, obsidian.
Sometimes the ground swells
With disappointment. Sometimes we know our mountains
Will be re-named after foreign saints.
We sing nine-hundred year old hymns
That instruct us in how to sit still
For forty-nine years
Through a fifty-year drought.
We climb down through the hole anyway,
And agree to the arrangement.
And then one morning we wake up
embracing on the bare floor of a large cage.
To keep you happy, I decorate the bars.
Because you had never been hungry, I knew
I could tell you the black side
of my family owned slaves.
I realize this is perhaps the one reason
why I love you: because I told you this
and you still wanted to kiss
me. We laughed when I said plantation,
fell into our chairs when I said cane.
There were fingers on the floor
and the split bodies of women
who’d been torn apart by horses
during the Inquisition. You’d said
Well I’ll be damned!
Every now and then, you’d change
from a prancing black buck
into a small high yellow girl: pigtailed,
patent leather, eyes spinning gossamer, begging
for egg salad and banana pudding.
Or just as quickly you’d become the girl’s mother, pulling
yourself away from yourself.
Because my whole head was covered
with a heaving beehive, you thought I didn’t
notice. I noticed. I cried honey.
And then you were fourteen, and you had grown
a glorious steel cock under your skirt. To brag
you rubbed yourself against me. Then your tongue
was inside my mouth, and I wanted to say
Please ask me first, but it was your tongue,
so who cared suddenly
about your poor manners?
We had books and a waterfall
was falling in the corner.
I didn’t tell you I couldn’t
remember what that thing was you said
to me once, that tender thing you’d said
I should never forget.
The moment you said it, I forgot it.
I wondered if you thought we were lost.
We weren’t lost. We were loss.
And meanwhile, all I could think
about was the innumerable ways
I would’ve loved to have eaten you. How
being devoured can make one cry. And I hoped
you liked the pleasant taste
of juiced cane. You pulled
my pubic bone toward you. I didn’t
say It’s still broken; I didn’t tell
you, There’s still this crack. It was sore,
but I stayed silent because you were smiling.
You said, The bars look pretty, Baby,
then rubbed your hind legs up against me.
Robin Coste Lewis is a Cave Canem Fellow and Goldwater Fellow at NYU’s Creative Writing Program. She studied Sanskrit and comparative religious literature at Harvard Divinity School. She was the Cole Professor of Creative Writing at Wheaton College and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College. She was a finalist for both the Rita Dove Prize and the International War Poetry Prize. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.