Wednesday Nov 29

WoolfittWilliam William Kelley Woolfitt teaches creative writing and American literature at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is the author of two forthcoming chapbooks: The Salvager’s Arts (poetry), co-winner of the Keystone Prize, and The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (fiction), winner of the Epiphany Editions contest. His poems and stories appear in ShenandoahMichigan Quarterly ReviewThreepenny ReviewNew Ohio ReviewAppalachian HeritageThe Cincinnati ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewNinth LetterRiver StyxWater Stone Review, Tin House's Flash Fridays feature, Virginia Quarterly Review’s Instapoetry Series, and elsewhere.


In the Reformatory, Billie Holiday Refuses to Sing
1947: Federal Woman’s Reformatory at Alderson, West Virginia

Her fans send heaps of letters and cards.
She would toss all that mail into the air,
make a vanity of wind, a blizzard
in her room. But the guards send back

any envelope not from immediate family,
and hers are dead. And they rifle through
her packages, keep the pears, and lacy
gowns, and gin in rhinestone flasks.

She scans the lady warden’s flyer.
Talent night, good fun for all.
She doesn’t give a damn about
the amateur show, refuses to sing

about juke joints, a rotten lover
who wastes his paycheck, black
bodies hanging like scuppernongs.
She insists she’s here for punishment,

for tomato worms and weeds,
the pig parlor, the kitchen sink,
these toilsome nights they lock her
in the cottage, lonely and foul as a tomb.

While she serves, it’s her time to refrain.
Her feelings and her voice are a queen’s
best jewels and muskrat furs
saved in mothballs, packed away.

After a Long Day of Teaching at Armstrong Manual Training School,
Angelina Grimke Presses a Daisy in Her Scrapbook: a Rondeau
1914: Washington, D.C.

Away from her students, she retreats to the room
beneath the stairs in her father’s house—it’s her room
of concentration, walling out the inkwells, chalk,
recitations, bells, his footsteps, pipe smoke, loose talk.
Here’s her copybook, where she touched husk of yellow moon,

rubbed the smooth bark of brown girl trees. Here, she beats gloom
like unruly dough back into the pan, feels the hairy roots
of the daisy she plucked from wet soil, its supple stalk
and yolk-colored eye. She could use this in a verse,

radiating white petals and leaves shaped like spoons.
Other words pull at her like a kite. She recalls the news,
Washington Bee’s front page: another black man locked
in jail, sprung by the mob, whipped and hung by the flock
of townsfolk who jeered, threw bricks, stole his watch and shoes.
She chews a nail, plans another use for verse.