By ERICA DAWSON
Kool G. Rap said, Cover your head
’cause it’s a dead zone in the red
zone. Rap said, God, now this is ire.
This ain’t no motherland, though fecund
as fuck. Florida’s the only time
and place I’ve said, it’s a black thing,
you wouldn’t understand, like I
will never understand the love
bugs fucking ass to ass, or man
standing his ground, shotgun in hand,
shooting at cans like they’re an unkindness
Seven years I have
mothered this nature into a woman.
The moon, her crevices, a tree
the sharpness of her tough skin split,
the river’s green—refluxing bile.
Eve said, I didn’t need a man to be
my mother. Didn’t need his rib/God’s hand,
to be made. I was already every sea,
the month of Sundays. Tide. The singeing brand
scarring the sky. Woman. The W.
I preceded you,
Adam. You didn’t have to fracture you,
break frame to find me.
While I let you do
the work, putting in work, like you own this land,
I am the ground and its fertility.
You can grab onto this: you’ve been unmanned.
Call this In the Beginning’s constancy
where there ain’t nothing but the cold and hollow
space in your chest.
I’m tidal. Taste me. Swallow.
I, myself, put a rock between my legs
as if I’d birthed it or fucked it dry.
Lord, now I’m going to let my nuts hang.
This is my body others well
received. Between my legs, the eve
of a day’s coming darkness, when a word
sounds something like a destination—
When did we get to nigger? Just
how far is it to nigger?
I tell Lil’ Kim that nothing makes
this woman feel better than telling God,
See my slow goddess and my two
fists, same size as my beating heart.
Same fists, the size of my stomach.
At dawn I fly with Lilith, succuba,
(the winged Night Hag with all her prophesies
inside her pussy) straight to Nineveh
the female place nation debaucheries.
We tear shit up.
There, Jezebel can swear
by some new Baal. And sick and tired Eve
I could have been the rightful heir
to fuck forgiveness, snake like a sleeve
It won’t ever get old,
Lilith says, being the moody sex. They don’t
want us hysterical or loud or bold
but like the way they reek of us and won’t
wash off our sour. It will only take
a spark to help us taint the night awake.
When Lauryn Hill found
her manifest destiny
in Gore-Tex and sweats,
I told God that’s all
the heat we need. August haze.
A huge graffiti
Jesus prays on brick.
There’s Domino, nigga. There’s
Rose for the lady.
I breathe Hallelujah’s feminine endings.
Tonight’s not offering its arm
but a place for me inside its hoodie.
I will not wear Americoon,
the blacks, the go-to Halloween
costume for Ivy Leaguers, beleaguered
we see you. White
House, we see you.
That place will turn
to just a storefront, GOLD n GUNS.
A perfect certainty—a storm won’t clean
my sweating skin and all the rain can’t muffle
the What motherfucker What That’s what
I thought Goddamn.
I can do all things
Christ which strengthenth me.
I see the exodus of light.
Erica Dawson is the author of two collections of poetry: Big-Eyed Afraid and The Small Blades Hurt. Her new book, When Rap Spoke Straight to God, a book-length poem, will be published by Tin House Books in fall 2018. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best American Poetry, Harvard Review, The Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals and anthologies. She teaches at the University of Tampa, where she directs the low-residency MFA program.