Don’t They Wear Scarves like Yours?
In the office, there’s a constant whirring of copy machines
and desktops running: The click-clack
of keyboards, CCs in emails, and the smell of leftovers
in cooked Tupperware with their symphony of plastic pops.
Kathleen’s son got an internship in Nigeria
and Melissa has been once before. They start
in tonal dance about things they’ve googled about Africa,
breaking the unbendable silence for 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
The ceaseless need to stretch: getting up to water the same plant
twice in an hour. Debra’s unrelenting wet cough from that
head cold two weeks ago and the unraveling loop
of her menthol scented cough drops.
Delete the mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmnbv
my elbow made on the document I’ve been editing.
Kathleen asks me if I’ve been to Nigeria.
Don’t they wear scarves like yours?
I love the way you do it, I could never do something like that
as she makes in a tornado motion above her head.
There is an insatiable desire to hear
someone’s voice instead of wedding bands
hitting the sides of coffee mugs. Everyone carries
coffee mugs when they leave their offices. Doors
are always open for brisk air, for human
interaction. I have
the warmth of my cardigan so the air
doesn’t bother me.
Drool on my knuckles from a 2-minute nap
where I dreamed I was an arsonist.
Glenda asks if I have any band aids.
She cut herself with a manila folder. I envy her.
It’s Friday at 2:30 pm, the lady in the office
across from me has been staring out her window
for 20 minutes. I wonder what her sex life is like.
She’s plain. I bet she’s a screamer.
I get off a 6, and keep thinking an hour
has gone by. 2:35, 2:40, 2:40:59. I steal a pen and
a pad of sticky notes every day. I’ve been staring
at this screen, trying to stretch the work with time.
My boss comes in and asks about Mr. Gallivant’s
proposal that I’ve been editing for a week.
How’s it coming along? her monotone voice
dribbles down her chin, lands on my desk.
Bitch don’t rush me. You’ll get it when you get it. I lie.
It’s coming along fine, ma’am, I’ll be done by this evening.
This will take me two weeks max. I’ll tell her
there are so many problems with syntax in this document.
I go through and add all the errors myself and
fix them again and again, until the clock blinks 6.
I get a ping on my computer.
Brandon is having a going away party.
drinks while we wish him luck on his
doctoral studies in Psychology.”
Are we all subjects for his research?
“The Ennui of the Everyday Work Place,” I imagine.
I’ve imagined once or twice what I would do
to Brandon in his office, on his dissertation notes.
Wendell asks me once a week if the scarf I
wear on my head is religious. Wanda at the
front desk asks if my hair is real when it’s out.
This isn’t coffee in my cup. My fingers are always cold
and numb. To feel them
I do rapid keystrokes [gerlkjgsfglisdlvbsdfbvjdsfbsdfd]
on the keyboard to make sure they’re still alive.
To make sure I’m alive.
The Body Poem
This body is a ransom note.
This belly fat is paralyzed.
This body used to salsa.
This body is brittle bone and shape wear.
I tried to fold it into a note too shameful to read.
I tried to swallow myself like a pill indigestible.
A boy once said I look like I taste like
thanksgiving. I didn’t touch the leftovers.
Would they be happy then?
If I packed away this body so it fits
in between teeth and tongue.
My fingers found their way to my throat.
Like where they are is not good enough.
I poured this body over cliffs.
It jumped off buildings.
I peeled the skin with diligent fingers.
I broke each reflection.
I grew up surrounded by big women.
Their houses were warm with prayer.
They glistened while they cooked, and
carried songs tucked between their breasts.
They used every part of the animal:
its wrist bones, the gristle.
They were mighty, with legs like waterfalls.
I would dream of them using every part of me.
They made living a dance,
every breath a refrain,
rain into sun They bore the magic
of whatever god is in that book.
Big women take up space
and that is fine with me.
I’ll stand and be a lamp shade in the corner and
watch their loose skin tremble while they laugh.
A gustful wind fit for a natural disaster:
I watch the furniture fly around the room.
The sway of their mighty hips
makes time swim faster so the cuckoo clock
can watch symphonic air waves pluck themselves
out the way for her body moves.
Shatter the floors with tectonic strides,
I’ll quake with it I’ll quake with it.
They wrap me in their flesh.
I fold in a fetal position,
rock me, big woman, rock me
my Vagina is a scripture
written in Times New Roman
reddened in holy voice
bodies are temples
hungry fingers are the swine
my Vagina is a berry nicked in curious follies
it speaks in different tongues
variates from hand to hand
it sings in soprano
my hands turn to cinder
my pubic bone is an ashtray waiting
my body is written in hunger
while boys feed themselves
my hands know a secret place
clumsy star writhes on cotton
my Vagina is bilingual
fluent in hands and batteries
red script commands rapture
attached to hands that are wordsmiths
in every font
Take this free will back
God puts us in these bodies
and has himself a YooHoo with a bendy straw.
He maneuvers the antennae on his television
and sets himself into a recliner
to watch the Mullygrubs of Humanity.
He leaves us no guide but a book of old tongues.
He smiles wide with fish lips and dips into a bag of Fritos.
The congregation of cells writhe down
back streets in cars billowing out obscenities.
He sees a fight between two crackheads on the
corner of 9th and Broad Street.
A divorce between two people
before it is even a thought.
He watches the 25-year-old grad student
create concentric circles with her
fleshed veil around a mechanical pencil.
He sees the pain and the misery
and never trips the bad guy.
We question the motives, wondering how
this is supposed to make us stronger.
We climb and never get to the promised land.
We look down and notice the scars.
Dear God, I continue to leave paper trails of tears.
Blood stains the cotton in my t-shirts.
You see all the mistakes I’ll make before
they can slice into my skin.
Free will is for chumps.
I don’t want to hold my broken heart in my hands
or mourning in my mouth.
Take this free will.
I will be your personal puppet.
Keep me so I don’t break.
I wrap rain from the leaky roof around my shoulders and see cracks in every blink.
You have depression and anxiety.
Think of them as light dimmers.
These are the broken light fixtures
I could show my mother.
I invited them over for whiskey.
And we all drank for hours.
I gave them reign over the good bones.
Some nights I forgot to breathe.
I put these rickety bones to use
and make a mantle for all my excuses.
They are permanent, but
you can control the dial.
I wore these diagnoses like chandeliers
and gold trimming.
They spoke of dried roots and decayed foundations. We were bumbling drunk.
I stitched their names into the welcome mat.
Some nights I forgot I was given the word control.
Born from Concrete
I’m a lego factory.
A lego ship and tower.
I am a color.
I feel my chest.
Yes, there is still a hole filled
with shoulder shrugs and
wasted attempts of accepting.
Where is my mother?
The one whose roots sprawl
like calligraphy on my skin.
Where does this body find rest?
There is a massive girdled shaped
hole missing somewhere on this earth,
tell me what I am.
What corner of Africa?
What island in the Atlantic?
Tell me I was not born from concrete,
that my tongue isn’t buried at the bottom
of the ocean.
Where did I begin?
Was there ever a time where I knew
the beginning of the story?
Did you have to learn about heritage through
textbooks and major studies? Through spit in a tube.
memories laced with fog,
forget and tell me we were just here.
You are black be fine with that.
I touch my chest,
like an amulet,
Spring makes home in my nostrils.
Your fingers curl around my fence.
Your tongue shifts a cherry Jolly Rancher
to the left side of your mouth.
Green grass, still wet from morning.
The sound of the AC unit
crooning on the side of the house.
in my throat. The words sit
in my mouth.
I see the white truck
with our tomorrows.
I’ll remember your buttercream eyes,
your jack o’ lantern smile.
There are wind chimes somewhere:
they weep a broken melody for us.
For now, I want to memorize the taste
of the cherry Jolly Rancher in your mouth.
In French class I take my fingers
and jam them into my mouth.
I rub salt into the cuts that run along
the ridges of the roof in my mouth.
I pronounce the words lettre and rouge,
in optimistic attempt to stop the blood.
Prendre et attendre, my mouth stings like summer.
My tongue is a tied cherry stem.
A scrawl of failed pronunciation.
My mouth was not stitched together
to whisper such beautiful language.
But here I am, fulfilling a requirement that numbs
A configuration of saliva and clumsiness
congregates at the back of my throat.
The uvular sounds attempt to shatter
my vocal chords to bits.
I wipe the corners of my mouth with
I try to erase the errors before they reach
the tip of my tongue.
It comes out as dribble, a half-bitten
attempt to make my tongue sound French.
The first time I saw two adults kissing was at a sleepover.
Her father and stepmother did the salsa in the living room.
I watched their bodies talk to one another.
They exchanged double r’s and creole French between them.
His hands didn’t know which part to touch.
But he kept the frame and she was the sweetest picture.
They bandaged the air in the room with their hips.
My canvased mind became saturated with oil paints.
I watched them kiss and thought this is the collision of atoms
we learned about in science.
This is solar eclipse, this is the universe.
This man and his hands, this woman, they are sunrise and sunset.
I was 8 years old and had never witnessed love that close.
I went to sleep that night dreamed of a tornado of limbs and kisses.
Briel Felton: "I am a senior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. My major is English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. I have been published in a couple of literary magazines, including Laurel Moon and Firewords, and have been honorably mentioned by the 2018 judge Chen Chen for the Academy of Poets for their poetry contest at the undergraduate level in Virginia. My plan after graduating in 2019 is to go on and get my MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry. My influences include Olivia Gatwood, Charles Bukowski, Sarah Kay, Allie Brosh, and many others. I attempt to write with a genuine rawness, with a smidge of humor wedged in, and a focus on the little details that make themselves apparent to me in my daily life."