Lock the Door
Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate,
…a lock on the door means the power to think for one’s self.
When her words were scattered into the wind,
N’kisi gathered them up and spoke them back to her.
N’kisi understood: a woman and her words are one.
A woman and her words behind locked doors
subjugate the literary law of the minimum.
It matters not which door is locked:
the splintered pantry door the mildewed door
to the washroom the door that rings hollow
when small palms are slapped hard against it.
It matters only [that it is a room] and the door is locked,
and a star-studded darkness fills the long window
with expectancy as the steady scrawl, then sweep
across the page resonates -
as the silhouette of a writer’s shadow
becomes a moon
that pulls at the tide.
O, Keepers of the Canon, why only esteem
the prowess of people-kings and spear-armed Danes?
Why only exalt those drunk on wine, poetry, virtue, whatever?
But, also imagine the sober meter of the truth told slant.
Or, watch how the kitchen twists dark on its spine.
Dispense with noble accents and their silver-tongued, inescapable rhythms.
There is a melody to mewing babies, and the drum of knuckles scrapping a washboard.
There is a cadence to shuffled steps abbreviated by tangled skirts, duty, and calling.
Every evening, the page is without form or void.
Every evening, the woman will hover above it,
create and recreate, if the door is locked,
and her apron pockets are full.
Wait quietly for the click of the lock falling open.
Notes on Lock the Door:
N’kisi is a hand raised Congo African Gray Parrot thought capable of true conversation.
The poem alludes to Justus von Liebig's Law of the Minimum.
The line, the prowess of people-kings and spear-armed Danes, comes from Beowulf.
The line, Why only exalt those drunk on wine, poetry, virtue, whatever comes from Charles Baudelaire’s poem, Get Drunk.
The line, Imagine, the sober meter of the truth told slant, comes from Emily Dickinson’s poem, Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.
The line, or watch how the kitchen twists dark on its spine, comes from Lucille Clifton’s poem, "Cutting Greens."
These lines, Every evening, the page is without form or void./Every evening, the woman must hover above it, allude to Genesis I.
Rembrandt’s The White Negress writes to his Negress lying down
My Dear Child,
You lie there in the sweetest of repose, the sweetest of respite. Your hair bonneted; your body
bare. He has lain you down upon layers of quilted light and shadow. He has turned back the
ample palette into ruffles of brightness beneath you. He has rolled it over and stuffed it under,
just so – to lift your head above the floor. And there you rest. The light – perhaps from a candle
or a playful beam escaped into the window – caresses your thick, tapered waist and fans out like
fingertips across your haunches and kisses at your heel.
Could he have loved you? He has laid you down with such care. Would a man lay a woman
down with such care, if he did not love her? You. Such a modest nude. Turned way ‘round
from prying eyes. You are clothed in the comfort of your own skin: velvety lines and filmy
black ink that measure the weight of him - the gentle caress of a man lusting for feathered
features in thinly lined blackness. And, still you sleep unaware of the beauty you lend his art.
‘Most three decades your senior, I have only the thinnest skin; a candle could shine through what
he knew of coloured intonation then. His eyes hurried from my features to his etching. So, I sit
stiff, unsmiling, more light than dark. My mouth is set, as if to frustrate a puff of air that might
escape my lips. My unseeing eyes cast outward, consider a crack in the plaster wall. I am
hastily lined, barely shaded. Dashed and curved. Not the true light or true dark of me.
But you, richly inked, heavily hued and resting. You, he loved with a mature devotion to
detail. He poured himself into you. The rich curve and turn of your thigh. The slumped
breathing of your dream state. He turned your head away, but not his own. He turned your head
away to spare you from seeing the chiaroscuro hunger of a man mastering his own darkness. He
spared you the gaze of patrons who might see your eyes and think they knew you. But, I see
you. See through to you. Into the heart of you. And, child, we know our own.
My deepest love,
The White Negress
An updated version of "Rembrandt's The White Negress" which was originally published in Free State Review, 2013
See, in the beginning, God stored a puff of the afflatus in the Tree of Life. East
of the Garden of Eden, Cherubim and flaming sword turn in each direction to
keep the way of the Tree of Life. Least we breathe in too deeply - draw in a less
than beautiful forever for ourselves.
In 1884, the Auburn Oaks were planted. They stood 130 years, on the rolling
plains of Dixie 'neath the sun-kissed sky. Everything is beautiful in its time. I
wonder about trees. If they suffer us. Wish to bury us each autumn and leaf
each spring in renewed hopes of burying the whole mired lot of us. What can we
know of fragile seedling/sprout/sapling/oak standing alone in open air? What
can we know of holding up the blue of icy skies in one’s own limbs? If the seed
is in itself, would they pluck us up by the root? Weed us out? We, too, who
were formed out of earth/water/air.
Auburn fans celebrated victories by heaving toilet paper into the branches of the
130-year-old oaks in Auburn's Toomer's Corner. Give 'em hell, give 'em hell,
Stand up and yell, hey! War Eagle, win for Auburn, Power of Dixieland!
In Dixie: moss weighs on oaks - drapes them in webbed mourning/this
plantation pomp and circumstance/worries the wind; shrouds the strangest fruit
– In 1964, did the Auburn Oaks offer Harold Franklin shade? [On Franklin’s first
day], the minister and other church leaders from Auburn were working with the
federal agents to ensure the integration went smoothly. At the church, Franklin’s
bags were searched by FBI agents as a precaution in case anyone tried to plant
weapons. “‘ [the agent] said he doesn’t have a gun,’” Franklin said: “I said ‘I
am not going hunting, I am going to school.’”
Angry that Auburn beat Alabama, Harvey Updyke poisoned the Auburn Oak trees:
Poison. Is. Slow. Deliberate. A churning crystalline blush in clear cool water. A
centrifuge – that pulls away from the center to the far-flung extreme before the
poison particles yield to pungent dissolution.
To poison is to taint until a thing turns haint/shadow/memory. To offer a
malady from one’s own hand – to open-palm offer up the vapors with cool
repose, as a lady might offer crustless cucumber sandwiches during a right
proper veranda calling party. And then, watch from the porch swing – watch:
as the tree drops her leaves out of season and then delves desperate into her
reserves to dress herself again - only to have her skirts slip to the ground again.
Again. And. Again. Malevolent in the porch swing. Witness to the whimper/
the wail/the want of sunlit comfort. Oh, to poison - one must tread into sacred
space(s): pillbox spill or trowel in travail; one must lean in to whisper; stab with
tongue turned spike; erase/yellow/tear/burn the page –
Anyhow, the court believed the defendant failed to fully take into account the
repercussions of poisoning living things […] and ordered Harvey Updyke to pay
Auburn $796,731 in restitution in monthly payments of $500. For where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So, why do I tell you about dying Auburn trees or the Egyptian Revolution or
how North Korea detonated its third nuclear bomb or how Mandela’s breath
[converged with the breath of 900 Bangladeshi people and 70 Nairobi mall
shoppers into a great cloud that] returned to the Tree of Life and that these
days, Harold Franklin doesn’t think much about Auburn.
So why do I tell you anything: about how the Iroquois buried their weapons
under trees to seal peace treaties So why do I tell you anything [at all]: Because
you still listen, because in times like these/to have you listen at all, it's
necessary to ask you not to poison the trees.
1 Genesis 3:24
2 Excerpt The Auburn Alma Mater.
3 Inspired by The Sound of Trees by Robert Frost
5 The Auburn Fight Song
8 Matthew 6:21
9 Inspired by In Times Like These by Adrienne Rich
Spring 2019 Featured Poet, Antoinette Brim, is the author of These Women You Gave Me, Icarus in Love and Psalm of the Sunflower, is a Cave Canem Foundation fellow, a recipient of the Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a Pushcart Prize nominee.
Jimmy's Tattoo 25 Years Later
Freckles tanned to leathered distress,
time-thin concert tee, basic blue jeans -
only the unicorn tattoo tells me it’s you.
My finger once traced
its outline of eruption and ink
on your forearm, a fantastical
reality: first loves and innocence
have gone the way of the unicorn.
Now, we look through
time-stained glass, and dream
of parallel universes
where we know and live
what we couldn’t back then.
No matter what.
[our simple promise to hold
the dying one without fear.]
Of all the promises, I’ve
made and will break,
this one I will grieve most.
This thing called love,
we just couldn’t handle it.
It was the toss of a flame:
your red hair glinting in the sun,
the grumble of your ‘68 white Buick LaSabre,
and your hands - such a sweet undoing.
We walked down General Samuels Road
stroking the back of a unicorn too
delicate to carry us through to forever.
So, what could it mean that
all of it is gone, but the unicorn
on your forearm?
I have always been
I believe in love.
I write poetry.
The lyrics This thing called love comes from the Queen song "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."