Sunday May 26

GrahamNatalie Natalie Graham earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Florida and Ph.D. in American Studies at Michigan State University. Her poems have appeared in San Francisco Chronicle, Callaloo, New England Review, and Southern Humanities Review; and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Popular Culture and Transition. She is a Cave Canem fellow and associate professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Begin with a Failed Body (U of Georgia P, 2017), her debut collection of poems, won the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

Among the room’s scatters of dark
you expected some sad rustling,
a hand committed to yoke and cuff
with its oscillating extension,

but nothing moved inside. You thought
you could hear travelers jostling along the muddy path.

They made no sound. Their quavering lights
carelessly opened a dark corner of his narrow body.

You mistook a radiant, shudder of heat
for a nameless thing, you imagined it would pass.

Venus burned in the distance.
Finally, a train’s keening pulled you to the window,
a pile of broken rocks, the musk of squalor.
The glass was not an escape, and yet

it opened for you.
You are always free.
How to calculate that pitiful advantage now?

Memory, a Tether
for David
A tether in me pulls taught and slackens, a thoughtless survival rhythm.
The white parts
of his body remind me
of lovely things:
the 14-year old boy’s teeth,
a blank page of stars,
porcelain sclera,
an arc of chalk,
bleached bone, maybe.
You are curious,
maybe you simply want
to see yourself
turn a woman
into a burnt brick.
Behind your face,
a constellation of metal
flashes a hallelujah chorus of light,
memory begins with the failed body,
mother, a crushed fence.
The day falters, a canvas of spilt paint.
You say, there was a woman,
who loved me like a god
loves every little broken
thing he’s made.
You begin gently,
lean in, practice saying
I’m sorry, say it with more force,
and again.
Moving against the shape of my mouth in the dark,
you say, I’m disgusting.
You say, I’ve been unfair.

Forgive the Briar
After Le Spectre de la Rose

The blackberry has a ghost
in its stem,

an urge
in its throat.
Its pith and vessels
lean with yearn to flower.
A bramble of twine,
will not cut me anymore
than another thing,
and with this thorn,
each drupelet swells
with stone and sweet.
I forgive the briar its thorn
the cactus, bristle and spine,
tune my mouth’s water-song
against the honeyed splinter
carve a haven inside, see
with the eyes I have
balance a dark limb
between the sky and ground,
the ragged leaf’s margin, a cover,
the static trees buzzing
Ants scatter and panic,
shuffle their dead through the dirt,
hunt out escape from the tumbling rain.