Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Fine Arts Work Center, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. Manick’s work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Human Equity Through Art (HEArt), Fjords Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Passages North, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Message Pulled from a Bottle at Sea
Dear Ms. Ursula,
you remind me of Aunt Odessa.
She used to laugh loud and outside
all the seagulls would scatter.
She liked to wear dresses that made
noise when she’d walked,
almost like little bells you see at parades.
But she hated kids who whined, people
who were skinny as sticks, and she
never celebrated Halloween.
Mama says she needs to love herself
and that’s why she’s mean. Do you
love yourself Ms. Ursula? Is that
why you’re mad? Did the sea
leave you behind?
I think you and Odessa get a bad rap
and you’re real pretty, like those
opera singers on TV. Your voice
is nice too. Those jazz records we
play on Saturdays gots nothin on you.
Uncle Toby says meat on the bone
is where it’s at, but Mama always
tells him to hush.
Rx for Little Black Girls
Ingredient Name: collective memory. the other side of every copper coin. a mother’s grief rolls into a ball until the edges meet. think of translucent fried onions in the grave of its own juices. some place it in a glass jar. others throw it like bath water.
Common Uses: sunstruck you fall into beauty. all is awe and tender. but Jemima was a daughter once too. shake the hands from your skirts. take this before walking alone in the woods or cement jungle in a dress people claim is too tight, too loose, too everything.
Before Using This: know you come from a long line of women. some covet the shine of your darkness; others shear their hair from the root cause they can’t handle the skin. cities and cosmetics are made of this.
How to Use This Medicine: follow the steps. imagine a reed flute. the tune will come when called. place it in the bottom of every Solo cup. store it in your braids, deep enough to pass TSA airport inspection.
Caution: you will no longer speak quietly at coffins. great dancers learn to speak without a mouth. be sister, sistah, little miss, ms., momma, or wife when you choose. but move or you will be moved.
Overdose: if overdose suspected, shake the memory from your hair. know how to leave, love, skip without thought. eat an ice cream cone or banana like nobody’s watching. if taken in error, all culture appropriators will be side-eyed. stones gather in wombs.
Possible Side Effects: you become a public danger because you can sing anything alive. make sense without light. carve your name anywhere through pen, voice, or axe.
16 Things I Can’t Say in This Poem
1. Gallop, conquistador, racist, yearning, heartfelt, rose, Gertrude Stein, Shaft, Richard Roundtree, insouciant, and alabaster
2. Flies, gnat’s, and bees want my blood especially
3. There should be a starter-kit for women featuring coconut oil, duct tape, judo lessons, and a switch blade that doubles as corkscrew, bottle opener, and flat-head screwdriver
4. In dreams I taste hurricanes. I am never full
5. I fear my brother, your brother, and his brother are vessels for gunpowder
6. I’m agnostic but small green bibles the size of palms make me jealous; it’s the promises they try to keep
7. Don’t give a fuck about Carbs
8. Something red is buried in my hello, it’s probably anger
9. Will I lose Black points if I’m not angry enough?
10. You’re really attractive when you’re asleep and not talking
11. The adult pallet misses fried baloney that dimples in the middle
12. Questions hurt more than answers, just ask Dr. King and Jesus
13. No Cynthia isn’t an ethic name and I do sound cultured on the phone
14. There are a hundred words for joy; now try to find one
15. Dear Crayola, your 64 crayon pack is lacking multicultural colors i.e. cinnamon, cocoa, sepia, tan, and mahogany
16. Dear Jetsons, Flinstones, and Ducktales if you have negro handmaiden’s or nannies hidden in your basement, just out of camera’s view, please release them at once, or have we all been exterminated?