CONTRACT FOR SOCIAL DEATH
Being the death of you comes with certain
responsibilities: we must always give you hope, we must
always distract you, we must never really see you: the pin
-cushion body we thread our bullets into.
Know that should we see fit, you will exit this
world twice. Should we see fit, we will be the ones
to steal your breath, and then to steal your mother’s
ability to sleep within this nation, which no longer houses you.
We take our responsibilities seriously. During your first
exit your neck will not turn, will not swing
your eyes backwards. You will taste the taste of sulfur in your
mouth, like blowing a gun. We are just like blowing a gun.
As for your second death, we will broadcast your spilled
vital fluids over your family’s television
screen – over all of America’s television screens. We will
rest our hot guns in your cold hands.
We want your misconducts
lulling off every tongue and your humanity flat-lined,
and after your first death you won’t feel a thing.
OF COURSE YOU HAVE A TYPE
If I grew wings I would eat them. I have a need for a you
inside me with a bit more discretion in your pursuit of
myselves, my friends, and women that I barely know, all
bearing some target identity markers. My mother asks about
types when she speaks about boyfriends and serial killers with
little in the way of difference; a back room swelling with warm
and cold Black woman’s bodies, blonde haired and tall, yellow
in complexion, livers churning or marinating in pinot noir. When
we met I was chopping carrots with the intention of someone who
knows loss, like a dyke who loves her own fingers. I was also
sweating under my afro in that hot Accra kitchen. You weren’t
sweating; you were born in this heat. I looked at you, saw a hunter
kissing a doe long on the mouth while his left hand cut through
the skin and blood cords of her throat. I wanted to be those parted
black lips, that spilling throat. The men where I am from are hunters
and they will tell you exactly what kind and how many bodies
they hope to tuck into the beds of their trucks. Serial killers tell you
with their tongues about their collections of women like insects stuck
behind glass, a fine needle piercing each up-turned chest. And you
swallowed hard with your thick, lovely neck cased over an Adam’s
apple pulling down, as if by a string attached to your groin. You took
the knife out of my hands, told me I was worth your time and pursuit
for my smooth bones encased in the marbled meat of the season.
anyone will tell you how deep their roots grow/
dandelion- like/ tenacious folk fibers winding
together and grasping down to an ethnicity within reach/
mine/ translucent/ parched spill at surface level and my leaves
they are like palms with pore/ stoma/ whatever you could call
my thresholds puckered at the sun/
no knowledge of how this collective of organs/
this conclusion to pollen dropping down a stigma/
floated/ran/swam/grew into me
ARRIVAL AND EXIT
The bus you rode in on should have crashed
because you covered the bus driver’s eyes
with your hands, asking: guess who, guess
who? The driver, in her navy blue uniform made
no attempt to remove your hands. She proceeded
to answer, listing the names of every woman
she had ever met. The bus made it to Virginia
where I reside. You’ve come here to kill me.
Your scales are brown and matte. Outside my
apartment, you shake yourself in a coil with
the rest of the lower organisms looking for
earth’s cover. I am not upset to die. I am
emboldened by the fear you cultivate in my body.
I like to be in control, so I walk through my door,
and find you waiting beside my bedroom window.
I remove your head with my shovel’s sharp tongue.
YOU AND I
[NO COLONIAL] [POST COLONIAL]
you and I have never left Nigeria Biafra the cramped apartment space we share in
Yorubaland. I raise a house of children in these rooms, three stories up. I threaten
between kissing the maid on her lips. you, secretly take a capsule every day to keep
kissing me, too. I write poems in lotion, my children waiting in either side room.
in pools in the small of your back after forcing penetration tires you. it only seems
our children fall asleep under the mosquito droning to me, and my eyelashes cast
nets. a tree drops soft fragrant fruit onto your lips in shadow. you admit to being
our roof. we hear ripe thuds only one inch above me, in height,
in the night’s quiet. I am still afraid of your physique failure. it’s how you comfort
snakes. bodies without limbs will unsettle my supposed barrenness. you do
me until my final days. we are witness to all your body will allow, and I persist,
civil wars in the Americas, and when we are throwing out all the gifts my body
wilting, in our own cities. the world could birth you. the day my attraction
expands, and collapses wanes. I begin to love you, and my world
beneath our Black hands, my life shrinks. it’s the size of a human one inch
under a memory of a colonial reality taller than myself and all the people who
you don’t remember. each morning you wake up, walk from my womb. I am all but
your lips, your chest, your hands all come down pushed inside out and paling
on top of me and I flinch, remembering, into that yellow girl you met and bruised,
before I indulge in your gentleness your choice pussy turned wife.
Xandria Phillips is a Callaloo Fellow and MFA student at Virginia Tech. She likes leaving the United States almost as much as re-imagining history, and interrogating what it means to be Black while abroad. Xandria’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Nepantla, Winter Tangerine, West Branch, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. Selected by David Ishaya Osu.
Image copyright Julie Sarloutte.