ode to my body
BY DESTINY O. BIRDSONG
after Lucille Clifton
you were born in the year of the rooster
& the dismembered grandmother
your mama’s first christmas alone, trying to guess
how much sugar to put in the pies
& how much can kill. you were bundled
into the house with the two uncles
sharing one of the bedrooms & zero baths
(a summer cabin in another life)
i have treated you like anything i never earned
every light blazing fridge wide open,
cooling the whole neighborhood doors unlocked.
i don’t know how you survived
the years without sunscreen
or health insurance. crabs from the first time
i dropped (nameless
as apple seeds) into the toilet.
the everclear. the laxatives. the Black-n-Milds.
you should have happened to a more
careful woman. never known
anxiety or shame
the 13-hour drive through arkansas panic
silent as the sleet stickying the windshield.
the lectures taught with a gallon of Prep scouring
your insides the distance to the bathroom tucked
behind one ear my pride intent
on beating your best time.
if you could speak in languages
other than mucus & loose stools,
i would apologize for this & other things
just to hear you answer in a voice not unlike
my own remind us what we are to each other:
echo, narcissus—both drunk on their own
guile. both murderous in their
insistence of love.
you should know i never looked at you
& blamed your mother though it is true
i have wished you smaller with more symmetry
like the stone of a fruit nestled in the slick flesh
of the world. in so many ways
i have tried to discard you
or i have cut you in two
with water fasts & nicotine
stretched you to feed
the men what they wanted
the women what they could love.
when you failed & i have called
you failure who could i blame?
what wonder is it that your newest threat
is your own patrol of cells —house divided
as the country intent on stealing
your coverage. it’s alright
that this is the most epic thing about you.
& alright that like your ancestors you might leave
with fewer parts than those with which you came
i would promise you good years
between now & then but who would i
be fooling? even now i’m slipping you milk
& slabs of bread smeared
with butter. like all your lovers
i know how much you can take
i have come to love not you
but your refusal to be consumed
i push you up pill bottles & down stairs.
& every morning you wrap a thin new layer
of membrane around the sac that holds
my heart dispatch a brigade of cells
with their sealed warrants
to a host of organs i hope i never see.
Destiny O. Birdsong is a poet and essayist whose poems have either appeared or are forthcoming in African American Review, Indiana Review, Bettering American Poetry Volume II, and elsewhere. Her critical work recently appeared in African American Review and The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature. Destiny is a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and Jack Jones Literary Arts, and residencies from the Ragdale Foundation and the MacDowell Colony. Read more of her work at www.destinybirdsong.com.
Next (Derrick Austin) >
< Previous (Alia Bales)