Esther Iverem


(No one knows a cause or cure for fibroid tumors, which
can lead to sterility and more often affect Black women)


The world is a landslide tumbling
breaking my windows, my womb.
For days or years, there has only
been blood, sutures, masking tape

and shocks of pain
that race my chest
and congregate with tambourines
inside my belly.

when the alarm rings
in the darkness
on cold mornings when I glance back
at my street
and see only a clump of charred huts.



We pass these rocks down
like old wives tales
like survival secrets
like some bloody legacy
of the ocean bottom we resisted.

What are they?
     a shield?
     a sign?
     a warning?

What secrets do they hold
in opaque membranes?
Do creases and folds murmur
of potato chips and cinnamon buns?
fried chicken and car exhaust?
this itchy land, this anti-land
this killing sun?

We pass these rocks down
like no one should to loved ones.
We pass them down
like no one should to loved ones.
Coded across their small hills
are inscriptions of the past.
tiny footprints of children not born
forbidden predictions of the future.

If the tumor could speak
It would scream in four tongues of fire
in four directions at once.
It would face East.
It would pray.

The tumor doesn't know
how it came to this place
among the soft shelves near your womb.
It awakened like a mass murderer,
finding its hands
gripping your ovary's neck,
his foot on your uterus.

Shamil Guliev
1993, 24 cm. x 32 cm
see more work by Shamil Guliev



I imagine this ill inheritance is a gift.
If it had not passed from family women,
speculation, sucked teeth,
turned down mouths and crossed arms
would rain down on my head,
accusing me queenly, royally,
like she-lions sniffing sin.

"Must have been sin:
that birth control found
in the chest of drawers.
taking up with that old man.
all those summers
fornicating at will.”

I would have been blamed, rattled
like a dog in heat,
like a dirty girl getting her due.


The tumor, bald and wrinkled
has settled here
to see the new generation.

Old Methuselah
peeking at the new generation
just over the wall.
Some dusty griot, haint, saint
like Damballah come visit me.

“They are harmless,” the doctor says.
“You can still have babies.”
And Methuselah rests inside
and grins.



(For North Philly)

Protect the gleaming, battered soul of her.
Protect her with knives and flat, shiny fists
-- at 23rd and Diamond where the only rain
has been the scabs of AIDS
-- in some shrinking, shaking country
where the bone-thin blow
like dead leaves and blue wisps of hair.

In the murmuring and restless soil
beneath Watts, Haiti and Chad,
there are old bones from Benin.
There is Robeson with his arms stretched out,
holding one long, silent note,
that all screams and bitter wailing fall into.

Across every stubborn stubble of savanna
from the rat-driven dumps of Lagos
Solid, flat feet have still grown
like trunks of mahogany.

And her children spread out on the earth
With knives, with hammers, with light.




How you alarm me.
A foot, elbow, fist
Pounding my inner-belly
Like an eternal drum.

You lay head down in the world
Floating through the streets.
The midwife feels your small back.
She pokes you with a fetoscope
And you poke right back.

I feel you are lonely sometimes.
As alone as I feel sometimes waiting for you,
Waiting to hold you in my arms.

I feel you are lonely sometimes.
I speak and sing to you.
I open my mind to see you.

I am a globe, a walking world,
Imparting secrets to the unborn:
There is a blinding beauty in space
Where stars are born.
Hundreds of star clusters,
filled with more clusters,
Where galaxies are born.
I know you know this.

Bamboo blooms every 120 years.
And the cheetah is the fastest animal on earth.
But it cannot roar.
Sometimes it chirps like a bird!
I know you know this.

Today on the Upper East Side
I cursed the White sandwich makers.
Who ignored me standing big and round,
Waiting to order, waiting to feed you.
I cursed the store and walked out.
I know you know this.

Oh baby, forgive my unpreparedness,
Forgive my madness.
Forgive my rage and fear that send shivers
Down your spine. Forgive the world I did not make.

As you pound a foot, elbow, fist.
Pounding my inner-belly
Like an eternal drum.




The glowing ruby red coil
Connecting my heart and womb
Began to churn.
Oh, rock my soul!

Something deep inside me broke.
Something deep inside me opened.
And everything I’d ever known spilled out.
Oh, rock my soul!

I did not know what I would have left
Something was gone forever.
And I screamed and cried.
Oh, rock my soul!

I squatted on the birthing stool and pushed
And the coil unwound, splitting my life in two.
The midwife’s assistant pointed below my crotch.
Oh, rock my soul!

I could not see below my belly the neon blue cord
Around his neck that the midwife quickly looped off
Like a dancer twirling her wrist.
Oh, rock my soul!

And then the boy came, throwing his arms out
To be caught. Screaming, crying and fussing
About the bright red and blue journey and the cold.
Oh, rock my soul!

“Hey Mazi!” We called out to him in welcome.
His name means chief in Ibo and the chief was quick
To make demands. “Tell me,” he cried through wide eyes
And with a strong neck. “So what now?
You called to me and I came.  What now?”
Oh, rock my soul!



Esther Iverem is the author of two books of poems, the newly-released Living in Babylon and The Time: Portrait of a Journey Home, both from Africa World Press. Her film reviews regularly appear on, a web site she founded in 2001 for the dissemination of reviews, news, and commentary from a Black perspective. She is a former staff writer for The Washington Post, New York Newsday, and The New York Times, and is a contributing critic and essayist for Her work appears in numerous anthologies, including Step Into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature (edited by Kevin Powell) and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African American Poets (edited by Clarence Major). Her poem "What Do You Believe In?" was broadcast internationally as part of the October 2003 March on Washington on the National Mall. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Columbia University, and is a recipient of a National Arts Journalism Fellowship. A native of North Philadelphia, she lives with her son in Washington, DC.

Published in Volume 6, Number 4, Fall 2005.