Alysia Nicole Harris hails from Alexandria, VA. She received her MFA in poetry from NYU and is currently a PhD candidate in linguistics at Yale University. Two-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the 2014 & 2015 Stephen Dunn Poetry Prizes, her poetry has appeared in Indiana Review, Catch & Release, Solstice Literary Magazine, Vinyl Magazine, and Best New Poets 2015. Alysia was also chosen as the 2015 Duncanson Artist-in-Residence at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati. Her first chapbook How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars to Stars won the 2015 New Women’s Voices Series Contest and is available from Finishing Line Press. Alysia lives in Atlanta, GA.
INTEGRATING INTO A BURNING HOUSE
qqqqqqqq– for Charleston, SC
I have eaten many a hog off the floor of America’s gut,
even where you are born. Fearfully and invisibly made,
we’re already phantoms in the picture. Rain trying to slip through
our fathers’ graves. Pardon the sky for speaking up from beyond
for sympathy. During the persistent sweat of summer,
black ‘cause black ugly, all the blood of our world pooled
under a kettle, making everything boil and cook.
I’m tired of you spitting in my face,
of you burning down our churches.
In these white gutted buildings, I’m tired,
covered in bows, begging God to do tricks,
though sixty years ago I would’ve sung.
I would’ve jumped but
I haven’t won.
Don’t tell us this life that we know
is the amen.
Exile is exile still,
in the smallest corner
of our bird-hearts. We’ve been colored
neutral, and our gravesite mouths were never asked.
Heaven is a bruise that won’t fade.
There, underneath, like heat
cooking it tender enough to chew, my face dazzles.
I’ve been dressed and readied for church though I’m tired.
Don’t you know the God we praise is in the body not, goddammit,
in trotting English out like a dumb pony.
In another conversation with another biggety hipster
whose lily-white liberalism puts my granddaddy
through noose after noose, I realize that dream got us nowhere,
got us nothing but this empty handed feeling, which is worse than paralysis—So,
about death? It falls open like the mouth on an invisible priest but the benediction
never comes. Just an ivory hood over a vacant maw shaped into a nation.
THE FUTURE WRITTEN WITH KNIVES
nnnnnnn– after Nizar Qabbani’s Verse
The emcees and dope boys are past forty.
The sweet tea ain’t sweet no more.
Rat tail combs, head scarves and house shoes,
everything has gone sour.
The Southern preachers are worn out.
The 1960 suits and fat ties are worn out.
The hospitals in New Orleans are graves, the speeches are graves,
the church dresses we sing our grandmothers’ hymns in are worn out.
My beloved country who has been both a serpent
and a mother to me, you have wanted me dead
so many times you replaced my eyes with diamonds.
I know there is a death beyond death. I am tired of waiting
outside the club with girls whose thighs read like epitaphs.
These are our tragedies
which we gather to us like children
too big to spank. Our swords
are taller than us. Our president wears
a cod piece. His wife sleeps
in all black negligee while our souls
are being waterhosed. Our bodies
be clogging the mouth of the Mississippi
so all that gurgling you hear, all that sass around St. Louis
is just the river talking back, our ancestors warning us
you can’t fight win a war with unwed mothers,
and videophones alone. You can’t marshal a generation
with a wax cut-out of Jay-Z,
our daughters’ wedding rings.
It’s painful to get on your knees and beg
but don’t curse these plantations.?
My beloved country, I have been a cash crop.
It’s been so long since I’ve worshiped you and taken off my shoes.
Your forefathers brought me home
so you could have someone to hate. Hate-
hate-hate like a line of ants across my momma’s tilework
fishing out the curried goat on an already empty plate.
I cannot tell if I want to slap my people
or offer us salisbury steak
but for that we’d need silverware.
For that we’ll need silver.
The thought of us in the kiddie pool
for another generation
unable to swim makes me write
another ode to the shore opposite the ocean.
Not an ode, a blues song: Take me back
into your quick-dry mouth.
Why you think so many of our great
jazz musicians practiced drowning on land
blowing breath into a trumpet. It’s what happens
when the marrow ain’t got much meat.
Survival some soul-sucking shit!
We shoot craps, send snap chats,
and ask the whores to call us kings
while the music we buried our grandfathers in
becomes a white man’s oil.
So fuck us if we ain’t riot.
If we didn’t tear the sky out
of its white cloak. Fuck us if we don’t
piss on the police station
and lock God in the church.
If the grave then the grave—any death but this
But I’m a coward.
If I could I would tell the President
Martha’s Vineyard has replaced your blood
with vinegar. My friends are shot
on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, You lost
the war. Our boys are somewhere in the belly
of a Trojan horse made of sand.
but still you ask Beyoncé to The White House
to sing the national anthem. Rhetoric of the smokehouse
riddles in a warzone . We lost the touch of our children.
They wander through the streets like lost cats.
Oh you proud young untouchable things,
Your pride was never broken into and thieved.
You cut a hole in the fence
where they tried to raise you like chickens.
You be the bright eyes to our constellation.
The hair we used to hide freedom in.
AFTER FERGUSON: STUDY OF BLACK DESPERATION (LARRY LEVIS CENTO)
aaaaaaaaaaaaThe lion paces the shadowy zoo
as a train shotgunned and tangled on a wire,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxtrailing its forefinger through the dust.
A cop spits milk on a hot night
sssssssssssssssssssssshigh on painkillers. Against laws
sssssssssssssssI get a gun and go. I take my last
sssssssssssssspaycheck— Here is a train I’m supposed to be on.
ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssHunger, it goes on
made up of small dogs.
ssssssssssssssssOne of them undid your blouse.
That summer the prices fell,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe cops held me up like a fish
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxoff shore of the ocean. The picture
of a scared girl in panties. I noticed my arms
being wiped off a plate.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxThe leaves that lie
xxxxxxxin a bruised doorway, sometimes they smear
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe evening on the air.
xxxxxxxMaybe the dead know
the ants’ troubles: Here are the shadows
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthat have fallen.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxIt’s silence falling
xxxxxxxlike ashes from the high,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxand I don’t hear anything
as I let the flesh go.
xxxxxxxA seagull, who stands listening to the rain
xxxxxxxsettles. The stilled elm leaves are stainless
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxas knives picked up in a razor fight.
The sky has the look of dirty paper;
xxxxxxxxits thinness crackled. I tried to doze off,
I tried giving it water,
xxxxxxits sky into my forever pocket. Green moth
on the inside of the rumpled bed.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHerds of butterfly
xxxxxxxstruggle quietly and open,
are absolutely still while the snow is
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxon all sides of me.