FIRST BOOKS ISSUE
SURVEYORS AND CLOCKMAKERS
Pluck a city
from the green stem
tinged ovary pink,
cotton petal plumes
purple along segments,
a compass cut hard,
a useful flower,
the purple womb
of black women
the stigma of rearing
soft, sturdy petals
swelling bright white
in the heat, quadrants
and pores more clear
in the dark, dark night,
our babies tucked safely
in stretched skin glow,
belly of the hazel moon
sun and dirty river water,
folk all over clothed,
decked in the South’s seed,
Potomac River Sundays,
brown saviors of anther
drowning, battling gin,
and the hands that pick us.
Anthony "Little Benny" Harley
(Sept. 26, 1963 - May 30, 2010)
no one would guess
his voice, agitated,
sang-talked small rhymes
heavy on the city.
somebody had to go tell it,
warn a nation about the people's politician:
he would never mix enough
baking soda & spit to remove the film
of hotel room set-ups--stings,
the gritty white color of seduction.
can't get him back,
that starving cat nodding
out at the curb on $10 smack.
classic stage rock, hip left,
shoulder punch forward,
a stick drop troubles the congo
to be counted, the crowd's
hands raise no fists for our hoods,
open hands, wide drop and rise
to reach his height-- Harley height,
brown push of a legacy
makes the walls weep
with human funk, defiance.
ALTAR TO EMMA LOUISEBlack rosary beads
Lourdes water in her womb
to fill your left cup
Acapulco shot glass
Straw hat faded in a sun window
A dried-out spider plant webbing
over a dingy white plastic hanging pot
Handmade ceramic figures
a black man and woman, coupled
Rooster with a chipped tailbone
Sticky recipe card for your banana bread
Can of Natural Light with a swallow left
Nappy soil from Aunt Cecelia’s U St. garden
Red brick dust from the church in S.W.
great great granddaddy built
The gold necklace of Mary ma wears
every single day since you been gone.
This oak never speaks. It stands static off the curb.
OUTSIDE MY ROW HOUSE WINDOW
I see it so often, I’ve come to believe I know this tree.
Not real knowing. Flawed knowing.
The unprofound leaves of its body.
Only the obvious: Once,
A wooden ovum bombed a soft country,
Dark flesh of a tree box. And here it hovers.
All quiet and beauty. Like rain caught mid sky.
A bled blanket of corn sheared & flattened like lamb’s wool.
I sometimes forget it’s there,
This oak’s beliefs, its first kiss,
Its trespasses and failures,
Or the reasons it always seems to be in prayer.
Life stage, wood platform
ON THEODORIC C. JAMES' PORCH
hosts the business of living
all its Old Glorious gradations
of purity and filth
—bucket of shit—
but never does tell.
Though windows break bare
their cavernous glass souls
to every passing wind,
though the white cover of paint
peels its lips, in due time,
the red roof flaps its shutters
and the blue door takes
the bribe of keys,
the porch is ever-faithful
through decades, terms
of ever-changing company.
grandfather from robber
by rhythm of footsteps alone,
weighted under the voluntary
cloak of neighborly briefings
the porch guards even the
infidelities of green, green trees,
its splinters swell in the warm duty.
Melanie Henderson is the author
of Elegies for New York Avenue (Main
Street Rag, 2011). She is a native Washingtonian, educated at
Howard University, Trinity University, and Lesley University.
Henderson is an alumnus of the VONA Workshops, sponsored by Voices of
Our Nations Arts Foundation, and winner of a Larry Neal Writers' Award
from the DC Commission on the Arts. She is Managing Editor of the
Tidal Basin Review.
All poems printed here, with the exception of "On Theodoric C. James' Porch," first appeared in Elegies for New York Avenue.
Main Street Rag
publishes a quarterly print magazine, poetry chapbooks and full-length
collections, and operates a bindery and publishing company. Founded in
1996, it is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Reprinted by
in Volume 14:1, Winter 2013.
To read more by this author:
Melanie Henderson: Wartime Issue