Happy National Poetry Month! Each Thursday in April, we’ll share a poem from our collection of poetry books. Today’s poem, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, is from her new book Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity.
her fingerprints rewritten rivers of coconut oil and shea. strands the geological memories punctuating the groove and hands god herself who moves and moves and moves. some would say she is slick. some would say she is thick. most would not say she is soaked in the universe. most would not compare the tiny ridges on her fingertips to the oldest forms of script. most would not connect the floorboards of her porch to the roots that they remember when she sits. most would not observe her face looking for patterns that are visible from space. her clients keep their backs to her. they have no eyes for what she sees. and the sea? well. they forget the ocean. themselves. but the desert. they remember enough to long for moisture. and to trust.
her eyelids know streambeds are pathways. know water from sky. know there is a spiritual reason why your scalp is dry. know cornrows from ricefields know laurels from crowns know most hieroglyphics are nouns. but her fingers speak present tense like weather and how. and her works of art feel pain but know better than to howl. they don’t understand the tapestry on their shoulders is a towel. but they know enough to sit up tall. they sure know not to scream. and when she’s finished they recognize themselves as a forgotten black dream.
even air becomes a ribbon even silence has a scent even laughter gets braided even split ends repent. and the pattern in her breathing settles sweetly on their pores and the unlocked locks of tangle get unnetted from the shore. and all the elders know to say is: she has been here before.
it looks like whirlwind. it feels like your head is shrinking. it smells like heaven. it tastes like salt. it sounds slightly like a waterfall. it goes like this:
massage out monday massage in more massage through mandate awaken the core. part practice from patience part what they say from what you know part partness from wholeness part being from show. braid fear over faith under throughline walking home. twist and repeat. braid faith over fear underneath speech. add in one perfect day with delicious food and plenty of sleep. coil coolness up and through sheen spray with sunbaked heat. and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. some only come out of the sense that they should sit down. but she makes sure they stand up. crowned.