Braiding my hair with her long fingers she says, You know

you could wear

cornrows pretty well with your curls

We’ve both gone natural since

the last time we spent weeks together     five crowded

years ago

Older and maybe

more honest now, she tells me about a frat party

where she was the only

black woman apart from

the stripper one guy mistook her for,

and I don’t know

how to hold that knowledge except      balled up inside of my fists

beating heart forcing me to

really pay attention to our differences

the distinction between what shakes my stomach sick

want to grasp her near

and the quieter fury she bears deeper, lying

thick on her tongue, bitter.


Where we are now

slaves used to pray, burn scented flames

to honor ancestors long gone

beyond these shores.  Not long ago floods rose over graves

turned shotgun-shack attics into graves, left a city split

drowning in the waves     gone

and I can’t even remember the last time

I was this happy

Is this heresy then

to drink in her skin each morning     eyes shut

so the only light is in her voice, murmuring

Tell me, is this sin?   I admit

somewhere ancestors–hers or mine–might be

spinning in silty graves

but we are here anyway       fingers upon shoulders, hair

The small of my back measures a single

hand’s span no matter what skin rests upon it


On the couch

we watch movies and remember back

to when Janet Jackson had braids like that,

share memories and ramen noodles

lips pursed I teach her how to conjugate imperfect French

verbs and gentle she

curls my stubbier fingers around chopsticks

She chuckles as I mold my tongue to fit lazy syllables

again, as if being back home

made me drunk on the wet air alone

as if I could ever fit in here

the lines are sunk so deep into this land, beyond dark loam

and red clay,

taste like coffee grounds burnt too long


On the streetcar we’re not just    another couple

careful touching shoulders to watch the driver switch lines at

the end of the ride

sitting like this

the sun from our lips can eclipse any

history and any ghostly wisps rising from soil

far darker      than either of us

than even night seen from cold crypts and streetcars