March 28, 2016

Tiana Clark

EQUILIBRIUM

Took me
thirty years to say
I’m glad
I don’t pass for white.
Pressed
those words into the dark
creases
in my palm like a fortune:
a life line
of futures I wanted to begin.
Like the way
the haze of summer heat
makes
a drive home different.
Right now
even the streetlights
have a misty
orb to them. Even
the cigarette butt
flicked out
of the window
on the highway
plumes with embers
skidding
toward me
like the tail
of a backyard
bottle rocket.
I wanted my
hair straighter,
nose thinner,
skin lighter.
I thought this
is what my white
boyfriends
wanted as their hands
became
each European request,
a Russian
nesting doll I kept
un-stacking
until there was only illusion
of beauty
split open. Like the Great
Gatsby cover
with the disembodied head
of a crying
flapper over the neon-scape
of city. All
the green beacons we chase
as thoughts
of people who don’t love us
are left back
drifting on the roads as we
drive. But
every muscle knows how
to get home.
How the smallest part
of ourselves
cannot be divided.
The last doll
is still whole in my hands.
Even the car
can still purr from energy
after it’s been
turned off. What is left
whispering
in us, once we have
stopped trying
to become the other?

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

[download audio]

__________

Tiana Clark: “I was driving home one night in a trance, under a spell of highway hypnosis. NPR was playing in the background, discussing Maureen Corrigan’s book, So We Read On, about the story behind The Great Gatsby. Something about Terry Gross’s intoning voice and the interstate’s passing white lines drummed up the genesis for this poem about identity. Growing up biracial in the South, other kids would often ask, ‘What are you?’ In many ways, I’m still searching in my work to answer that question. Race, spirituality, family, gender—my obsessions converge in my poems, sometimes to subsist, sometimes to subvert. I look for my place between the classic and modern traditions by breaking and creating new forms. I like poems that take risks. I find it infectious, as I start to become more reckless in my work. I write to access that blood-jet pulse—to rake my flaws across the page, sift through my past hoping to find grace, connection, empathy, power, and—most of all—honesty.” (website)