BY I.S. JONES
I know Death
is the undulating snake below the Great Tree.
Before Truth opened my eyes
I could do nothing but feel—
even the veil that blocked my sight
could never make me ignorant of desire.
I knew of my nakedness—
the snake’s tongue throbbing
for the meat of my thighs.
I am a feral thing; my mouth
a greedy canvas of ripened consequence.
In the garden, I pick fruit & masturbate—
worship myself in the absence of prayer.
The blackberry’s sweet nectar
indistinguishable from my own.
Fingers: blackened Pussy: blackened
Lips the color of shadows.
All day, I dance like a rich woman
let mango drip from my chin.
You don’t know hunger,
a throat relieved of its own drought,
until your teeth tear open the wet heart of the sun
& chew through its shining meat.
I don’t know if I could have broken the snake’s spell—
or rather if I wanted to.
I followed it—sliding & sliding—
through the quiet bend
where stood God’s second head.
I pulled God’s heart down from the branches.
I sunk my teeth through salvation
& climaxed like never before.
I wept & then all the lights of heaven pierced my skull
like a dagger’s epiphany.
I know Death:
it met me at the edge of myself
gave me a new name,
then sent me back.
I woke up naked & wailing in a forest;
the faint caw of life at midday,
flies rest lazily on leaves
as shelter from the coming rain.
I am a spell of six letters.
I have a name that begins & ends two countries.
I am ‘Itiola’: ‘Iti’: ‘the foundation’, ‘the root’.
Ola: ‘cradle of wealth’. English is a meager language.
There is no threshold that can translate me.
No one trusts a name they can’t pronounce.
Call me ‘Stephanie’ because that’s easier.
It’s more American, meaning ‘white’.
I am so articulate; I sound like generational wealth:
the ‘burbs two cars in the driveway
manicured lawns private schools.
Like any good American, I get to complain in English.
Say: American-born Nigerian. Say: Child of Empire.
No one can make sense of what I am:
Yankee. Foreigner. Exotic fruit of the West.
I am the most foreign when I talk about Nigeria
[you don’t get to weep for a country that isn’t yours, selfish American]
I am most White when I talk about America.
I love my country though I’ve seen its hideous face:
When my parents speak in Yoruba & sound like a threat,
when Americans hear my mother’s accent & question her intelligence.
I’m used to this one-sided love, how any Empire too close to the sun
Baba gave me dominion over all cloven & two-legged animals.
I lift my hands & all living creatures bow.
I stir shadows & creatures plunge headfirst to salvation.
Some of us pick flowers, dream in blue & green,
others do the real work to bring home a heavy feast.
All year long, my people eat like kings.
Look at me, Cain: Baba’s most prized creation.
He made life, but I undress the light
& a village doesn’t go hungry
of the way I put my humanity on a nightstand
to do the vain, hideous things,
what sister, do you know about blood & the way it speaks…?
I remember each upon each—the knuckling, the wordless pleas,
the clean deliverance of blade upon a beast’s neck.
Flesh into flesh.
Every nation under my tending feasts until marrow
until blood is savior over body.
Let each column of teeth
know its guillotine weight.
Let each hungry mouth know itself to be a brief church.
O sister, praise me for the pity I have shown you
& know when life gives you poverty be grateful life gives you
anything at all.
after Phillip B. Williams
I.S. Jones is a queer American / Nigerian poet and music journalist. She is a Graduate Fellow with The Watering Hole and holds fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT Writer's Retreat, and Brooklyn Poets. She is the 2018 winner of the Brittle Paper Award in Poetry. She is a Book Editor with Indolent Books, Editor at Voicemail Poems, freelances for Complex, Earmilk, NBC News Think, and elsewhere. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, Kweli Journal, The Rumpus, The Offing, The Shade Journal, and elsewhere. Alongside Nome Patrick Emeka, is she the co-editor of the Young African Poets Anthology. She is a Kemper K. Knapp University Fellowship and an MFA candidate in Poetry at UW-Madison.