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Genealogical Trip to Pulaski, Virginia

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“If my body be a long poem / then I want it to go wherever it needs. / I lick dirty verbs in my teeth and feast. / I go back to the buffet with my dirty plate, / because I want my body to say all it has to say / and not be sorry for the saying. Of. It.” — Excerpt from Tiana Clark’s “Indeed Hotter for Me Are the Joys of the Lord” 

L. Renée is a third-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she has served as Nonfiction Editor of Indiana Review and Associate Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. Her poems have been published or forthcoming in Tin House Online, Poet Lore, the minnesota review, Appalachian Review, Southern Humanities Review and elsewhere.

Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. L. Renée, what poems have you brought for us today?

 

Genealogical Trip to Pulaski, Virginia

 

The mayfly swarm undulates like the perfect hip

roll, mottled bodies plow brown bodies midair.

Wings fade as fine gossamer in June sun

buoyed by a buzz too quick to be caught

by my eye, which doesn’t want to bear the witnessing:

 

how nature persists in getting on with it, publicly —

life, sex, death in the span of a day.

I turn away, overcome by shame. I look through

my Ford’s cracked glass at white mile markers blurring

a black highway. Why does our making always begin

 

in denial? When I find my great-great grandmother,

Frances Houndshell in Census records, branded

mulatto and a mother at age 9, I do not wince. I practice

numbness, focus only on getting back to the alpha mama

who owned her own body, her own name, somewhere

 

off the coast of Ghana or Nigeria, maybe,

where her breath, not her sweat, was enough

currency. In Virginia, it’s common to see the dead

mayflies skip across pavement like flat rocks tossed

sidearmed at a stream’s surface, then lodged

 

in sidewalk cracks, among orphaned pebbles,

sticks and sprigs of grass. I’d rather look

at uncountable rows of tobacco leaves

which leave me breathless, dizzy even. All those

green ears flap like an elephant’s hello, hang woody

 

scents heavy through my car vents like next-of-kin

hugs hugged only at family reunions. In death,

female mayfly lips freeze into an ‘O’ as if readying

a whistle, as if leaving evidence of ‘no,’ after the males

give chase, grab their tiny legs, drag them to the ground,

 

after the mount. It happens like this. Whole lives

purposed for labor and procreation. Night collects

her bounty. By daybreak, bodies pile by the hundreds

on windowsills, in porch corners, in the middle of a passage

pedestrians stroll between a jail and courthouse.

 

The nice white genealogist at the local library tells me

Frances’ age must be wrong, an error in reporting.

But I know a nymph can be snatched from her skin,

molt and molt until she becomes something new,

gains wings, if only for a brief view of the dust

 

she will soon call home.

 

Ars Poetica: As Archaeologist

 

              I scout for the wreckage:

              Bone embedded in soil,

              pot shard shaped once by

              human hands, now smooth calcium

              nestled deep inside earth’s

              muddy pocket. My hands submit

              to their memorized posture:

              The constant cupping,

              wrists ladling sand

              like life-saving soup,

              dumping this bounty

              into a sieved bowl

              that betrays inconspicuous

              grains, revealing, eventually,

              some lithic totem,

              some evidence I existed before

              my first breath, before reaching

              for my first wound. I long

              for the brown specks

              that camouflaged my primordial

              skin before I learned skin lured

              predators, before I adapted

              to this world’s fear. A steady

              sun beats down on my digging,

              but my limbs refuse rest.

              Excavation is its own kind

              of gift: The ordering, classifying

              naming what history forgets.

 

negroes auctus weather, block auction

              after Nikky Finney’s “Auction Block of Negro Weather”

 

 

take off              running

 

              swell & surge converge

 

tender half-     whisper   wailing 

 

              mouth    sunk below

 

[bellow]           a world with    vortex

 

              drowning         forests human            

 

fingers millions            divvied up       skilled              

 

              skin                    Black  Beloveds

 

lightning’s   waiting   arms    whirling

 

              [a whip]            unravels high  Goodbyes

 

deluge super  children            women             bank

 

              gold     snatched          teeth    pulled sweet

 

stem    worn   luck                    shuts                  what   

 

              comes under     fat   clouds   holding             

 

wet hands        running [from]             into      air   

 

              Black dots        growing wings             blind    trails   

 

back     where cotton rows    squall     long

 

              hurry      cane  winds  zipper flying   open  

 

vanes [veins]  every     republic  dares           eyes    

 

              look     the promise                   stolen between          

 

starlight           &           trembling  lungs      a love      some       

 

               left          crying             red-blooded   tears [that]     

 

ran &   ran a nation    infested            hate water      

 

              everywhere    cataclysmic        on      easy conquerors

 

the eyes            keep                   coming              [run]

 

 

You've been listening to the poetry of L. Renée on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.

Mayfly emergence

Mayfly emergence. (Jeff Reutter, flickr)

“If my body be a long poem / then I want it to go wherever it needs. / I lick dirty verbs in my teeth and feast. / I go back to the buffet with my dirty plate, / because I want my body to say all it has to say / and not be sorry for the saying. Of. It.” — Excerpt from Tiana Clark’s “Indeed Hotter for Me Are the Joys of the Lord” 

L. Renée is a third-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she has served as Nonfiction Editor of Indiana Review and Associate Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. Her poems have been published or forthcoming in Tin House Online, Poet Lore, the minnesota review, Appalachian Review, Southern Humanities Review and elsewhere.

This week on the Poets Weave, L. Renée reads "Genealogical Trip to Pulaski, Virginia," "Ars Poetica: As Archaeologist," and "negroes auctus weather, block auction."

Note: "Genealogical Trip to Pulaski, VA" first appeared in Tin House Online.

Instagram: @lreneepoems​

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