Renia received her MFA from Cornell University where she’s a lecturer teaching writing. Winner of the 2016 Sonora Review poetry contest, her work appears or is forthcoming in The New Guard, Stone Canoe, The Offing, Prelude and elsewhere. In 2015, she received the Hurston/Wright award for college writers.
the first time
I once was trying to catch my bus on time,
not even mindfully carrying my sex
down a college street
when a troupe of boys asked me to wait up.
and of course, I didn’t, because five of them
would never mean well for one of me.
they were just boys then,
not even mindfully, to me,
but one gained speed,
tapped my shoulder, complimented me
on my outfit or hair – some small nicety.
thanked him, but kept my pace.
just trying to get to my bus on time,
I told him.
he halted. plooked back and his silence
held a “how dare you” so acute,
I dug into the clack of my boots
resumed my march to the bus
I had to catch until
grabbed my ankles
ripe in the air I could feel it
the way a stench also tastes,
the way terror morphs sense,
I was learning.
poetrypis a way of teaching.
but which goose of the five?
poetrypoetrypoetrypwho said it?
I cried, desperate to teach the air
to re-receive what it gave.
and I ached from having no word
for those boys,
now mindfully white.
a word so for them I could say it
and never miss, watch them retrieve it
from my mouth
like a belonging.
buzzed anew with knowing,
this must be how it felt
when they came with the gun.
you said you love cigars more than women ‘cause they don’t argue with
this is not where it begins. I would try, but
to always, by morning, feel your hand upon me,
silver and tooth slick, to always think; why
your people don’t come for you? watch you
swivel the wooden bowl ‘til I offer, to hear you
ask if I’m eating and, really, if you are, to feel you
slither into where I bury that night in the pool
after cognac and too deep too thick and too black,
you slipping my name into Nina, you saying
Ms. Simone is your girl, that I remind you of her
with my too deep. us in the water and too much
but not enough brown sweet to unfeel you
trying to enter me without warning,poetryhow foreign
a feeling familiar can feel when unasked for. you
tell me girl you created that yourself by denying you,
but I know some things just come from elsewhere.
and my nerve to smile and forgive so I don’t
think about it any longer. your hands in surrender,
your head nodding, jokingly, so no this isn’t where
it begins and you couldn’t love Nina or me, not when
you are capable of that kind of trying. I could try
too but it would always be that metallic taste
after smiling to keep from no never again in my bed
or prying open my fridge door. I’d always be trying
to dismiss, always trying to head shake it clean, to
always be more and more present, always asking
did something happen to me if it didn’t
get to happening?
something like a rapture, but less
a blessing of blades under our tongues,
sister pushing an unkempt stroller, its awning back,
an unlit Newport muffling her song
poetrypoetrypoetrywe took the bridge, a long way to go for this
poetrypoetrypoetrypoetryunplanned, so a miracle too.
that scarf in her hair: a chorus, a ripple of water,
her singing that tune, “blessed assurance, Jesus
poetrypoetrypoetrya refrain, a warning:
this is the last time we will be “poor county girls,”
so help us God, vaseline, the stroller’s crying
and we met the devil herself on that bridge;
the one we were made of, the one we came for – broken
finger skin, torn mouth, nothing left to do but pray
poetrypoetrypo“Lord, we came to undo this girl,
poetrypoetrypoetrypoour error and filth.
stay with us.”