Friday Jun 21

ReeseMichele Michele Reese is the author of one book of poems, Following Phia (2006), and currently is working on a series of poems based on slave narratives. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina Sumter where she also directs the South Carolina Center of Oral Narration.


The word means illegal,
unauthorized, forbidden
goods that are prohibited,
cannot be imported or exported
anything stolen
especially if intended for warlike purposes
things liable
to be captured or confiscated
illegitimate . . .
I have trouble remembering the term
for people.
Unruly Nail Boys
When we depart the nail shop
fireflies encase the mountain
illuminating the downward slope
taunting my parched tongue.
Tonight I will tend the coal fires
on my time. I will buy a great coat
for the overseer’s illiterate son
and he will give me free papers.
Muddy tracks lead onto leaves
where I find a box of eightpenny nails
buried under an Aspen.
I am in bed aflame, nailed down,
hear heavy treads, protestations,
smell the wine cellar, and observe the whip, the whip, the whip.
He turned the back of my head
into an anvil.
On New Year’s Day, I should reach
my parents’ cabin for the first time
since I was ten. I can swing a hammer
to burning metal two thousand times in one day,
create seven pounds of nails, for this
I get twice the rations, a red-suit incentive.
Hundreds of thousands of nails
forgiven for tears and a pass
given for finding religion.
I never want to be under that man again.
Sell me. I have had enough here.
Low Country

With each ax swing,
the clay swallows up my feet.
After so many I have to pull
my legs from the greasy mould.
It’s like I’ve been chopping
at this cypress for seven years.
I don’t even stop
to wipe the mosquitoes off.