9.10 / October 2014 Queer Issue

7 Poems

loves in a different way

This need to watch without interruption refuses the habit of everyday seeing.
No lash to lash to butterfly kiss I, a monarch spectacle for pause—
a sight they can’t pull from the eye at this small town’s
local fair, these fair-goers parade in shades of wheat and flour.

Years trained, his mother has grown her gaze to last not long, adds
little to herself by looking, but the weight of his stare causes dust
to settle on this picture preserved: frustrated and disturbed, as if
his crayon colored outside the lines and shit-streaked the sky.


I. Good Mornings

People stand reading muffins, careful
cursive of daily specials, peering
through bagels for hunger has made them
strangely curious as I watching
through lashes the woman with eyes
the color of concrete before it sets.

She smiles and ponytails her dreadlocks.
To say more than good morning
sounds the danger of loose shoestrings—
a scraped conversation to impede
the unbuttoning that might bring her closer.

And like any dutiful customer,
I give her my order and hope she grabs
the espresso beans with naked hands.

II. Cyberlounge

The computers to my profile, the books steep
in green tea walls, her head mostly afro,
her dress fans the floor. She
taps the keys with one hand.

The other day, I walked to her, asked
about the book she’s reading.
She pearls her speech with ellipsis,
turns the book over, its spine furrows.

She speaks like Smoke Lilies Jade:
Black girls… talking… about fucking… girls.
Seasons changed in my cheeks,
I couldn’t excuse my petals.

Blinking offered minute
darkness to hide and paw
my way to the door.

Today, I make her not notice me.
Brooklyn watches through the window,
a perfect screen for my staring heart.

III. Oh,

I was teenaged searching for a face
to reflect my own who would call me beautiful
enough to make me think it’s possible she’s not lying.

The day and night dream had its floors littered
with the various drafts of me imagining
another woman with my breast in her mouth
too satisfied to breathe.

IV. Aaliyah says speak

Don’t dodge being spoken.
The words that go in circles
will give up your cape and costume.
The way you shimmy can’t be undone.
Don’t swallow how we come together,
from the worth in ourselves,
cooling unmasked faces,
to meet in plain conversation.

We grip each other like fire-escapes.
This time don’t eat grass not to tell of my hands.
This is not gutter—the grooves fit for tongues—
this is the pothole we lose our wheels in.

V. Angel

I prefer my tea with sugar
when I talk to you. You make
each minute an island where we,
crowned and carpeted by green,
sip Dragon Well from our palms.

I’m necklaced by your talk.
I want to exchange my body
for yours and outfit your walk—
be the canary in your cage,
hum every note you give.

You may find it strange
I think this way, but I’m
readying myself to approach
the musical brew of my yeses,
my season fitting to spring.

VI. Ieela, I’m your Grape Crush

Yesterday was the day I never met her.
I know her by her last name too.
She needs reasons not to return home.

She searches by candlelight the catacombs
of women’s bodies, saying God left the key in one.
I get carbonated looking at dates. She hasn’t said yes

to being my girlfriend. I’m reason for her to stay.
Her answers: bagel pyramids, pies rotated so their better
sides show. She sips and the soda sighs, slices my sandwich

in half, takes the piece closest to the door. Her backside
is glorious—it’s a fast to watch her go.

VII. Tanisha

For weeks now, I’ve arrived during her shifts
and avoided her eyes—eyes have a way of hooking.
I watch her hands perform tender surgeries,
cut lines where bleeding isn’t a sign of parting.

Tonight it is her mouth, a cupboard—
unchipped, the cups open for alms.
Her neck I hold and drink from the cool
of her cheek and wound my tongue inside her.

VIII. Carolina

She sweeps the streetlight
from her hair, sticks it behind
her ear, says, I came down
when I heard music in my pots.

We lose our shadows, our
gauche footing to invitations
made when we’re in treble.

I’m of age to consent
to what she is asking:
Yes, this is yes.

Upstairs in her apartment
she fixes the bedding.
The sarong, I unknot,
one base at a time.

Her tattoo band of fish
in my coral. Through crowns,
their fins and tails propel.

I peel back her waves.
This is a holy day,
meals come after set.

In her shirt, her scent flags,
in my skin her touch is
pledged—a believer, at last.

mashing cookies

Not all of us are lesbians on this island circled by orcas.
We’ve come because we’ve been nesting stories,
hollow voices that need time to season. We all need
to loot our minds for the woman who surrendered to wolves.

In the morning, on a breast of land, we wake our oak,
light wood in waterfall, air out the owl. At the nipple,
I encourage a woman to leave her captor, but first
she must mash cookies for her daughter’s cake.

The chef told us on arrival, there’s a bottomless pot
of cookies, and the other night, after glasses of red wine,
we reached the bottom. The conversation turned to g-spots
and female ejaculation and two or three of us can do it—

the 5-continent ear whistler, says, oh yeah, and relishes;
the one who eats her bones, has Googled for instruction;
the oldest who winks when she purses, doesn’t reveal her numbers—
the rest of us, a little sheepish take our crooks and Tagalongs.


Your backside a cello, I scratch strings down

to the body’s divide. These three chords

have the juice to bleed—you’re a native in

my war. My horn won’t be evaded. These

mammies to your back—remember I’m your

daddy, not the rooster who pulled down your

pants under the bridge the science teacher flashed.

Say your pussy is as wet as mine. These inhales

let out an OM and let me in and it’s the pleasure

of walking into air-conditioned megastores

after 100-degree heat—the whole body testifies

that we are plugged into one magnanimous force.


Maybe I’m as broken as they come—
storm and all that storms leave behind:
you pick up the door to your barn,
found 10 miles away, and it’s a special
door. Four generations recorded
how short and tall they were.
Lifting it by the handle great aunts
touched, you catch a dog on its last
breath—stared you right in the eye
and is it worth it to fix the split of old wood?


I see too much sky between your branches, and where I was, I see too much trauma in your lashes. Like hammocks, there is the where of your deepest rest, and if I rouse it, what do I bring it after so much sleep? Surely, it wants tea to meet it? But nonetheless, I pave into your unfettered parts, frightened by the barren I see. I know each step breaks ground. But is it trees you want or is it the need to ache your knees into unmothered earth, throw your shoulders into flight, kneading land into something that will find its way into our craw?

The starvation has clutched the heart too. The grip imprinted so deep the quadrants have not forgotten the thumb—it was not news you did not love openly. With caution, octagonal and red, many ladies stopped completely at your door, desiccated from the thirst of those lilies that took to drawing water from their palms. Too immobilized to ring the bell, they collected like the Chronicle on your welcome. Where they’ve been, you haven’t the courage to know. Even the postman doesn’t deliver; the strategy to your door puts him in checkmate.

My glasses are fogged from staring into your voice. Bottled words molded into sparrows and ladybugs; beetles. You cough, I fall in crush with your tiger-pace laughter, the way you make do with hurt. Let me bring you under the stretch of rays—the kings will surely give up their thrones to have you awakened again. I have. I have. I have polished it to its original shine, given it the inspection that needs no inspection.

Listen to the motorbikes in my arms, don’t they sound true and daring? I know you have that fuel in you—ready to rip the engine, ravisher. If we drink to the passage of time, let it course slowly through our hoses and the horses we’ve put in the stables, let them gallop in our posies—cheers. I know we can. This rabbit year prepares us to water the statues in our yard, chip at their carapace, and wash the faces of faces who know us best. Paint their lips apricot, even if apricot is not their match.

closet case

It’s not hard to hold you, your cries
have shaken you, you seem freezing.
You’ve beaten the dog, her eyes are red,
hidden behind your guitar and frightened to bark.
You threaten to throw yourself from the ledge—
who will catch you?

No people on this sidewalk,
they’re inside watching news, eating
Spanish food from the Spanish Restaurant.
Whoever’s out will regard your flight
like the first sign of rain—
speed up and try to find an awning before it storms.

                                     you shout you are stupid, look to accuse me
                                     of sharing the belief, no, stupid, you are not—yes,
                                     i am stupid. no those things, you should not say.

We are lovers. When climbing the last five steps,
screams from behind your locked door serrates.
Someone is beating you, robbing boxes of books,
your wallet you can never find. You’re on your knees,
tugging your hair—snap your neck from your clavicle
then this room will hear my lullaby.

You I cannot wake in morning
spent the night carving your own sunrise.
Red circle and rays of pink pucker,
your throat buckled your breath
when you saw it run to the carpet.
The towel was not enough bandage.
My fingers pressed on each line, afloat like carrion—
sticks and rotten bark that becomes of a failed escape.
You bled not to take you to the hospital.

                                     i’m fucked up you shout, look to accuse the
                                     belief of sharing me. not fucked up, no you are.
                                     yes, so fucked I am. say those things, you shouldn’t.

The next time I will watch you,
clean the razor. Handcuff my hands to your wrists.
Breasts to back will pulse our sweat. Next time
your hands crave to cut—my fingers with the blade.

Arisa White a Cave Canem fellow, and the author of Post Pardon, which has been adapted into an opera, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. A 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and an advisory board member for Flying Object, Arisa is a BFA faculty member at Goddard College, living in Oakland, CA, with her wife. arisawhite.com.
9.10 / October 2014 Queer Issue