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About this poet

Tiana Clark is the author of I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2017 Furious Flower Poetry Center's Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize, and the 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. She teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Conversation with Phillis Wheatley #14

recovered letter from Obour Tanner


To Phillis Wheatley in Boston [Massachusetts]
                                                                                        New Port, February 6th, 1772
Dear Sister,

I'm a savage. There is a savage-me inside, wild-thick as sin, so much, my Soul
is clabbered, but there is a Change, I sense, inside my curdled mess, Christ hung

and crucified in me, daily, a Saving Change. The ship. Do you feel the ship, pitching,
sometimes, inside the skin under your skin  -chanting-    as the Atlantic whispered,

lulling us, fluid as hymn and semen, in wet languages we couldn't understand?
                                                                                                  Remember the ships

that brought us over the bent world. Let us praise these wooden beasts that saved
the evil beast of us. Do you remember the ship, Phillis, do you remember rocking...

the rocking black milk, like I do? Remember the bowels from the reek
inside the deathly ship? There was nothing in us to recommend us to God,

except the bowels of divine love. Remember inky black, starless black,
blue-black with moaning, smelled like salt and salvation: God's skin hammered

with long nails like our breath, bleeding.

                                      But we converted—we have been saved by a Saving
Change: my Heart is a true snow-white-snow Heart, Of true Holiness, pure

as buttermilk, evangelical as buttermilk. But Repentance can save our people
from a land of seeming Darkness, and where the divine Light of revelation

(being cloaked) is as Darkness. What was darker than the bowels of that ship
you were named after, do you remember Phillis, how black, black is?

The mold? Our sin, the trigger—that mist was on everything, fuzzing our damp
little bodies with spores, encircling the air, emerald rust crawled and blossomed

inside our young lungs—it coughs and rackets the bright blood from us, like a claw
scraping, no, like soft applause from the balcony for the swarthy to sit upon

during church, like when we met, I was a dozen broken roses, bruised as velvet,
                                                             English and reaching desire       for you,

across        the pews, across          the vast|empty spaces, where two slaves
       (who could read and write) could touch—each other—there, as women

and call it: Praise.

Let us marvel at the Love and Grace that bought
                                                                                     and brought us here.     Amen.


Your very humble servant and friend,

Obour Tanner

From I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood. Copyright © 2018 by Tiana Clark. Used with the permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

From I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood. Copyright © 2018 by Tiana Clark. Used with the permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Tiana Clark

Tiana Clark

Tiana Clark is the author of I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018).

by this poet


after not wanting to watch “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” on Spike TV

It rained inside me
it is raining inside my neck
the rain falls in sheets inside long sheets inside
all the rain is falling inside collapsing spit
I don’t want to watch another black man die
today or know


                                                 I was born into this world sideways.
                                 Doctor said,
                                                 surgery, to break my face
                           set it right again

   after Carrie Mae Weems’s Roaming series

Before I knew
how to fill my onyx body
with slick measures,

dip every curve
in my skin with dark sway,
I needed a picture.

Before me stood
a long black dress I called Woman—
you stand opaque

with your back to me,
a statue of witness,
the door of Yes