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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 15, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Since the invention of the first word, the female body has been a constant site of fear and violence, in religion and myth, in our common language. So many words and phrases in our daily vernacular are pervasive weapons struck against womanhood, aimed to demean and diminish. By going back to the source of this language and examining its violence, both linguistic and literal, both historic and modern, and by inhabiting some of the ways the female body has been seen as monstrous and dangerous over time, I had hoped to subvert these sinister ideas. Instead, I found myself wandering alone in a more treacherous poem—coming to the stark realization that this body is the most overlooked body in the world—that being born a black woman is the original site of exile.”
—Safiya Sinclair

A Bell, Still Unrung

She daily effuses
the close-mouthed
tantrum of her fevers.

Hog-tied and lunatic.                         
Born toothsome, 
unholy. Born uppity.        
    
Blue-jawed and out-order.   
Watched her sculptor                   
split her bitter seam        
              
with his scalding knife;
mauled through the errant                
flesh of her nature

and hemorrhaged mercury, 
molted snakeroot, a smoke           
of weeping silver. 
 
She, accused.
Sprung from the head 
of a thousand-fisted

wretch or a blood-dark                                   
cosmos undoubling
her bound body.  
                   
Vexed shrew. Blight of moon.         
She, armory. Pitched-milk pours
from her gold oracular.

Bred in her nest a lone                          
grenade, prized, unpried
its force-ripe wound.

She, disease. Often bruised
to brush the joy of anything.
Zombic. Un-groomed.      

Her night slinks open 
its sliding pin. One by one
these loose hopes

harpoon themselves
in, small-ghosts alighting
at her unwhoring.    

She, infirmary.
God’s swallowed
lantern, tar-hair and thick.

Her black torchstruck.
A kindling stick.
No sinkle-bible fix

to cure this burning.
Shrill hell. Jezebel.

Isn’t it lonely.

Copyright © 2016 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Safiya Sinclair. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Safiya Sinclair

Safiya Sinclair

Safiya Sinclair is the author of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.

by this poet

poem

Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
This smell of ocean may never leave me;
our humble life or the sea a dark page

I am trying to turn: Today my mother’s words
sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
Her hands have not been her hands

since she was twelve,

poem

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace,