just finish your eggs
there is nothing quite like
watching the clouds
through your white windows.
i woke up slowly
and found your lips
against my arm.
how could you fall asleep
still holding me?
in the morning,
it rained for such a while.
i lingered in bed listening
to the droplets and your steady breaths.
we ate loquats and grapefruit.
you chide me
because i never finish my eggs.
i watch you hang up new drapes;
a hummingbird flutters
behind the glass.
blackbirds singing in the dead
last night outside my window,
i heard a family of blackbirds
shifting restless in a paper nest.
then the little boy knocked
on my bedroom door: he
heard our dead brother
moving ‘round the attic again.
is ‘los ready for someone
to cut him down?
you are not a hoop
for us to throw
our balls in.
how dare you
dangle there, just so.
don’t take his hand
let the rope burn remind you:
he is no longer of this world –
but i don’t know of the
rust-red space that only black
men seem to graze.
there it goes there it goes (again),
says the little boy.
i swear he’s up there.
i swear he’s calling
out my name.
i almost answered too:
heard him kick out
the chair from beneath
his own feet.
then the little boy
looked at me,
his long brown fingers
trembling slightly under
the dimming lights
dad didn’t even know what his
favorite song was skye do you
think he knows mine skye do
you think he hears mine skye
the little gray schnauzer
waits and i sit down next to him
to wait too. in the kitchen, he rests
his silver head on the rug’s fringe
underneath the long cooled stove.
his ears turn outward at every
sound – as though he expects
that at any moment, my mother
will walk in and set her bag
of freshly picked lemons down
to combine brown sugar & cream
together to make pralines or that
my father’s footsteps will clack
briskly along the hardwood floor
to hand her the butter she needs.
or that my brother, long gone now,
will saunter in, beautiful &
silent, the tails of his shearling
camel coat, trailing like attendants
behind him, to stick one finger
into my mother’s sweet mixture,
reach down to the floor and give
him just one lick.
my professor has leaked us a copy of toi derricotte’s
i because she is magic & apparently
money manipulates bookstores.
this light-skinned woman smiling up at me,
awash in gray on the cover,
wrapped in poetic turtleneck,
reminds me of my light skinned mother.
she married a man with deep chocolate skin
and had children darker than she
would ever be.
my mama said: skye i wish you’d been born
with my grandfather’s green eyes. i wonder
if your children will have them.
years later, i pick up my white boyfriend from school
because he’s broken his arm in that reckless way white
people are allowed to break things.
he slides into my car with green eyes reflecting
the sunlight and sees toi derricotte smiling up at him
from the cacophony of books covering the seat.
he tells me that he is introducing her at a reading
– he has questions:
i. how did you get that book?
i answer: professorial magic, i suppose.
ii. is it toi like toy? toi like an actual toy?
i answer: pronunciation: yes. spelling: no.
iii. babe, is she white?
i answer: no
she is black like my mama is black
just not as brown as me.
to comfort you
i want to whisper things to you
while you are sleeping
catch you in that quiet world
between starlight & dawn
with my hand in the crook of your arm
i’ll come as close as i can get &
ask you why in the museum today
you saw your father in every glassed print
or as a phantom in paintings
& how even though we are in paris
all you can think of
dream of is mid-city
& the art on your walls
how you hope the storm won’t claim them
not your house not your bike
not your books but your art
the only thing that your father left pure
in the art nouveau exhibit
i stand in an ornate mirror & say
i want one just like this
you knot your scarred arm in mine
& tell me that the only thing you’ll inherit
is a beautiful old looking glass
& there’s no one you want to see
reflected in it but me
so here in the darkness
as i sit buttering my black body
in coconut oil i wait for my eyes to adjust
& when they do
watch your body slip in & out
of covers & dreams
i want to ask you as you sleep
to just call the old man
even though you won’t
even though you can’t
because your dreams of him
watching you run
through a field of dandelions
when you were a boy
is all the art you need
to comfort you
An Interview with Skye Jackson
by Rosalyn Spencer
Rosalyn Spencer: Congratulations on the publication of A Faster Grave poetry collection with Antenna Press! It is a beautiful publication with illustrations that works seamlessly with your poems. How did you come to collaborate with Antenna Press and your illustrator/artist Santos Calavera?
Skye Jackson: Thank you so much for your kind words. That means so much to me. I found out about Antenna Press, a local arts organization here in New Orleans, through an open call posted on their website. I had been working on the manuscript I submitted for several years and thought that Antenna would be an excellent home for my work. At the time, they were seeking work by local New Orleans writers and artists. Many of the poems in the collection revolve around New Orleans culture and my experiences here, so I thought it would be a wonderful fit.
I’ve known the artist I collaborated with, Santos Calavera, for at least ten years now. I’ve always been a fan of his work. I knew that he could fulfill my vision of what I wanted the chapbook to convey visually. I knew that I needed someone local who was familiar enough with my work to lean into that intersection between literature and art that I am so fascinated by. Santos really rose to the occasion. He allowed me a great sense of artistic control over the project and really took my directions and suggestions well. As a result, many of the illustrations you see in the book were ones that I dreamt up myself. I was lucky enough to work with an artist like Santos. He believed in and executed my vision in such an inviting and aesthetically pleasing way. I’m so proud of this chapbook. It is truly an invitation into my poetic mind and is wholly representative of how strongly I am influenced by the arts. In a sense, Santos’ art really brought my words to life in a very unique way that I don’t think most poets are fortunate enough to experience.
RS: Reading your collection, I found a strong sense of voice the was apparent especially when hearing you read your work at Poetry Buffet reading series? How did you cultivate that in your work?
SJ: Voice is such an important part of my work as writer. I always try to make sure that each poem I write stays true to itself – and also just conveys who I am as a poet and a person. I love when poems are funny, tender, stark or vivid. I use my voice, when I’m reading poems aloud, to emphasize those things and to call attention to aspects of the work that you might be tempted to overlook on the page.
My voice and reading of the poetry adds another dimension or layer to what’s being conveyed. Suddenly, the body has a voice and that voice is demanding you to pay attention to certain thoughts and ideas. I’m interested in bridging the gap between oral and page poetry – also, examining how those modes intersect with and overlap with one another. When I write a poem, I have to read it aloud. I have to be intrigued by the path that the sound of the poem is taking. For me, the journal is auditory, written and visual. All of these aspects have their own significant role to play.
RS: In reading A Faster Grave I found an affinity with your "skyverbs" such as the poem "Lessons" which says, "you call it/heartbreak/I call it/research". There is a lyricism to your language and tone. How did you come upon the idea to create "skyverbs" and what was your intent when creating them for your book?
SJ: The term “skyverbs” is a play off of the book Proverbs in the Bible. So I couched the poem “Lessons” as a proverb, of sorts. I’ve always been fascinated with how religious tone elevates written language. The adherence to words that were written so long ago by people with such a different experience of the world than the one we have today. Yet, we continue to follow that framework. We continue to seek advice and counsel from these Proverbs.
My goal with co-opting biblical language, like “skyverbs” here or “song of skye,” which is a play on Song of Solomon, is to take control of that. I sought to present my own work in this reverential, elevated sense. I’m really interested in subversion. For me, poetry is just a well-executed spell. So I’m intrigued by that intersection between the magical and the biblical. I suppose that I just have this perverted desire to mix everything up!
RS: Many of the poems can be seem as love poems but ones that are colored by experience, humor, nostalgia and tinged with bittersweetness. However, your title poem is a humorous loving ode to your relationship with your parents. How did you find the balance in your tone to convey these many aspects of love and relationships?
SJ: Everything is intertwined. The relationship I have with my parents really colors the way that I see and experience love in my own life. I’m also intrigued by the dynamics of relationships – of why certain people click together and others don’t. I consider myself (and all other poets, really) as social scientists. We are constantly examining ourselves and other people to learn about and convey various truths about the world.
One of my professors at the Creative Writing Workshop, Niyi Osunduare, always tells us that poetry is inherently scientific. I believe that wholeheartedly because I write to understand the world. I put myself in various scenarios and situations because it is my responsibility to convey my experience of this world. It is my duty to document and attempt to quantify it all. So I attempt to do that at the very best of my ability. My life is an exercise of heating up the test tubes and seeing what explodes as a result. The balanced nature of the collection is just a result of wanting to present a well-rounded offering of my own experiences and imaginings. To me, a book of poetry is a lab report conveying successful or failed experiments and observations in my own life.
RS: What inspired this collection of poems?
SJ: This collection began when I lived in Los Angeles, actually. I fled to L.A. after three years of law school. To put it simply, I needed a mental sabbatical. I just wanted to live and work and figure out things that I had been avoiding – the death of my older brother, Carlos, my relationships with other people and attempt to cultivate a relationship with myself. I had to learn to listen to myself and trust my own instincts. When I arrived in L.A., it had been years since I’d written anything that could be deemed substantial. But then, I fell in love with a guy I met there and it was like something just clicked alive inside of me.
Words began pouring out of me. I started writing about him, our relationship, or rather situationship, and my navigation of things that I didn’t even know I was capable of feeling. Somehow, this man sort of lit a wick inside my soul and I felt myself just melting everywhere. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and freeing and scary. I just had to get it all down and I did. Then, a year or two after that, I moved back to New Orleans. As a result of that, I suddenly had this LA to L.A. thread being woven that I thought was so rich and interesting. So to answer your question, it’s inspired by my adventures, love, family, social media, the millennial struggle – all of these pertinent and urgent matters in my life.
RS: Who are past and contemporary authors/poets of color that you believe are helping to represent a nuanced perspective of a woman of color in your prose?
SJ: Toi Derricotte has been a huge influence on my recent poetic work. I had the privilege and honor of meeting her last spring and it was a life-changing experience. When I read i, I felt like she was giving me permission to be myself and to write the things that I needed to write. Toi Derricotte gave me the courage to proceed honestly in my poetry and the confidence to place my work in conversation with other writers.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin has been a huge influence on my poetry and budding nonfiction work. Everything he writes is so vivid and cinematic, so I try to bring those things into my own work. Last but certainly not least, I’ve been reading The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. I’m not finished it yet, but so far, I’m in total awe of her voice and the way she moves across a page. I feel really blessed to stand in the footprints of these incredible writers of color.
RS: What is your goal for the future as a poet?
SJ: My goal as a poet is always to be brave and to make work that resonates on some level with other people. I want my work to be the vehicle that not only allows me to see, but to understand the world around me. I want to help other writers. But most importantly, I want people who aren’t necessarily writers to be able to look at my work and see themselves reflected somehow. I want them to know that their experiences deserve to be heard and shared and seen. I want black girls to feel seen and acknowledged because we are beautiful and we deserve all of the wonderful things that this world has to offer.