Valerie Jean



Between two women who love
the moon, looking into the night
from separate cities, the sky hangs
pregnant with prayers. Their lives
and harsh stories drift off the pages

of their letters the way that wet
kisses of loud lovers drip off
a pillow's edge into soft dreams.
Words sift through the dark times
and punctuate those screaming

white days, when the world cracks
and shifts on ground as fluid as
the sea, but the women gazing up
at the stars see brilliance in each
other's heart and can imagine

themselves whole. Those old still
rumbling fears beaten into their skins
dissipate into the sweet lyrics of
laughter. Purple crocuses set out
of the kitchen counter of the one

become background landscaping
for yellow lilies bordering the fence
of the other. These women sew
a sacred quilt between them, using
light bouncing off the moon as thread.


(to Nina Simone)

Her haunting voice do
hum on some spirituals
mean as sin. And she do
demand "some sugar in"
her "bowl," sometimes.

Her harsh notes drip
dark and sacred melodies.
Like precious psalms
they move the air. In
rhythms stark & wavering,
her bass thunder rolls

and Nina wail--her tongue
trembling rocks even
the spirit world, moaning
that magic that keeps us all
whole, close to our own
souls, and she lifts us.

Martha Tabor
Spirit Block
(sculpture) plywood, cast hydrocal, ice tongs, fabric, linen 37" x 24" x 7", (1993)
see more of Martha Tabor's work




In rare snatches of clarity
the sky bares its blue

teeth over the insistent gray.
The sun ruptures into golden

flecks that bleed into the lake.
Ripples jerk and sputter

at my feet. Here, in this
tiny space, blinding sparkles

dance under the arched wings
of lost sea gulls. Miles from

any ocean, the heavy murmur
of salt dirges returns,

washing over the innocent
trees, deafening in the dry

air. Like driftwood caught
in seductive undertows,

I am buoyed back into a deep
and desperate drowning blur.


When the moon has crossed
three-fourths of the night
sky, my tight limbs spread
a shadow over the earth.

Listening for the cadence
of her voice, I am listening
for the vibrations of her
steps, knowing she runs

free now, outside my need.
I do not know what I want
from her, or from the dark,
but every morning finds me

frozen to the cold ground,
begging sharp-edged stones to
swallow me whole, to suck me
in to where she lies... broken.


After this, I promise myself
to never speak of you again,
Even though your name
seems tattooed on my tongue,

an acrid sore. When your
mumbling pesters my sleep,
I will ignore you. When your
hungers settle, a caustic

weight in my belly, I will no
longer acknowledge your bold,
persistent clamoring. Leave! Go
find somebody dead to bother.


Crows follow me around
the lake.

Their yellow eyes
glisten, like sun drops

frozen between wings.
They stare. Their caws

beckon. I am afraid
to hear them,

but also afraid not to.


Valerie Jean is a poet, writer, teacher, and editor. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, LPs (or Recordings of one journey through a grief), and Woman Writing a Letter (winner of the 1991 Artscape Literary Arts Award for Poetry). Her poems have appeared in three anthologies, Double Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters, Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, and the forthcoming Beyond the Frontier, as well as in numerous journals, including The Black American Literature Forum, The Missouri Review, and Callaloo. She has taught creative writing at Essex Community College, the University of Maryland, St. Albans School for Boys, and currently leads the "I Wanna Be a Writer" workshop held at Sisterspace & Books in Washington, DC.

Published in Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 2000.


Read more by this author:
Jean's Tribute to Georgia Douglas Johnson: The Memorial Issue