“won’t you celebrate with me / what i have shaped into / a kind of life? i had no model. / born in babylon / both nonwhite and woman / what did i see to be except myself?”
— Excerpt from Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me”
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. Renee, what poems have you brought for us today?
Everything delicious is served on Friday.
Jesus should get a do-over for the Last Supper,
since He missed out on the miracle
that is Wonder Bread made paste by perch’s
corn-mealed skin sweating Crisco, clinging
like faith to a mouth’s roof, even as the tongue
tries to negotiate release, swat freedom for teeth.
We know what delay tastes like.
We have waited for a check that affords us
this feast of fish golden crisp and the glow of black joy.
With Luther Vandross praising us for being bad
on Aunt Mary’s 45 spinner, who would call this dinner?
Stove tops bubble with pots of kale and collards
made sides only by smoked ham hock oozing
salty fat, their doneness determined by Mama Joyce
who dips her Too Blessed 2 Be Stressed mug in the pot-
liquor and sips slowly, purses her lush lips and declares:
It got more meldin’ to do. Ain’t that true for all of us?
She snorts every time Lil’ Russell comes by to kiss her highest
cheekbone, his jeans drifting toward hell like he forgot
his real tribe. Nevermind, no matter, we made it here together
the Old Timers will say — though they suck their teeth at the sight
of his drawers, at the sight of a at their Bid Whist table,
at the scent of Dee Dee’s too-sweet macaroni and cheese.
We all fall short of perfection like memory, but Uncle Harold
brings us back to where we started: yellow perch biting their ashen
end of a line in Lake Erie’s Ohio waters — the place Grandaddy,
wearing his old mining boots, taught generations the patience
needed to stay fed. Uncle Harold will never bring the tartar sauce
Cousin Cathy, out East, developed a taste for. He will fling back his
James Brown-slicked bouffanted crown and howl the sound of hunting
hounds choking on coal dust, remind her she still a West Virginia holler
girl, remind us travels ain’t useful without this knowing.
Ghazal: Hog Killing Time
On the first day of each year, Uncle Harold must be the first to open my front door.
A man passing through early brings luck, the coal miners say. It’s in the blood.
At eighty, he visits his sisters’ homes before the first flake of sun, but saves mine
for last since my mama is the only one who cleans chitlins from a bucket of blood.
When he gets to my house, I empty my mouth full of hungry questions
about mountains, company stores, backyard strawberry patches bursting like blood.
Between slurps and burps downing his intestinal soup—Boy, this sum good eatin’ Sho’ put yo’ foot in this—he feeds my curiosity, its persistent, pumping blood.
In my day, come November o’ December, we’d butcher tha whole black hog—
from tha lis’ners to tha trotters! Me ’n men ’round tha holler. Catch even tha blood.
Daddy’d stun tha pig with a .22 clean b’tween tha eyeballs. No need to squander
good hide by frettin’ em’ ’bout tha end. Jitters carry spoil to tha meat through tha blood.
I see the vat of boiling water scalding off hair, hands scraping the tufts remaining,
and newly white pig skin, glistening like pearls, readied to spill guts urgent with blood.
What could bring more closeness than cutting off back fat, stewing neck bones? Rationing out side meat, feet and hams for families to share, like blood?
We used ev’ry thang ’cept ’fo the oink! What can I salvage from this heritage? History has wasted black bodies, catalogued with no names, with no lines of blood.
Isn’t every black living thing eventually drained?
Lauren, will you ever inherit wholeness? Or just stories, richer than blood?
You've been listening to poetry by L. Renee, on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Runbinas Dorsey.