April 5, 2019

Destiny Birdsong

LONG DIVISION

Twenty percent of me wants women—
or maybe just Cardi B. I want us
to fuck up the club after we get dressed
at each other’s houses, her jeweled tips
grazing my ribs as she drags the faja
tight beneath my breasts. I want her to call
me “bitch” because I’m taking too long to gel down
my edges, then later, try to fight the bitches 
who get too close to me on the dancefloor. 
I want us to stumble into the bathroom 
arm in arm; for her to thumb straight 
the smudged wings of my mascara,
gum cracking against her expensive 
teeth, us taking in the breath from 
each other’s nostrils and the stench 
of pissy toilets and bins brimming with pads
rolled tight as sushi. And all this
is to say: I am not ready to speak of her 
peacock feather, of the ripple of muscle 
coaxing it down her outer thigh, which is
to say: I don’t know what I want—but maybe
more than twenty percent will allow.
Sixty-nine percent of me wants men; 
I believe every mouth deserves a morsel.
The rest of me just wants a bed alone:
seas of unfucked stitches cool
to the touch, and arms brave enough
to lie open with no expectation of
an embrace. Of that, half is terrified of men:
of the intentions they hide between my fears,
the messages sitting on read, and the easy way 
they are speaking to you, and suddenly,
they forget. Though part of me longs 
for their forearms, for the way they lift me;
and the laps, broad as my mother’s, granite enough 
to hold me no matter what size I’ve become,
no matter the number of cylindrical months
I’ve spent alone, months the men moisten 
and dangle in front of me like squares 
between their lips. You can never finish a whole one 
by yourself anyway, one used to say, lifting the butt, 
it’s filter red and warped from my slow drags. 
The other half remembers always—and sometimes 
with tenderness—my rapist. I see him in passing: 
twice daily at 11:11—his wish minute. I see him
in razored goatees and in the rhombus 
of a Toyota; in the belly, hard as a melon, 
which is leading the man who is leading the girl 
through a crosswalk littered with brief blushes 
of dogwood blossoms blotting the spring rain. 
Even now, I wonder if it happened because we were 
in love, and if that’s true, maybe I should just
get over it. Or call it some other thing: 
the need for better safewords. The need
for more boundaries, unrecognized as they are: 
little countries with shorelines for skirts 
and no kings. Longing is an imprecise 
arithmetic, like the medicines calculated 
for both histoplasmosis and my survival. 
If you sectioned off my heart, it would collapse
like shredded meat cupped between the loaves 
of my sesamed lungs, where there is always more breath 
than sustenance; still, some nights 
I sit alone at the oak table at sunset, 
daring my dissection in the cracked reflection 
of an empty plate. Others I spend like the Savior’s 
parabolic bridegroom, who, having passed the sleeping maids 
in the courtyard, enters the streets in his 
sloshed robes, his kerosene lamp
whittled to a flicker against his chest.
He’s calling “Come. Come. Whosoever, 
let them hear; let them come.” 

from Rattle #62, Winter 2018
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Destiny Birdsong: “Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with loving and well-meaning friends who’ve said two things: 1. that my poetry is powerful and well-written; and 2. that, because it is unapologetically about black women, and doesn’t blink in its transparency, it probably makes (white) editors uncomfortable. Honestly, I worry about this sometimes, especially when the rejections roll in, but, real talk, if I’m not doing all of the above, I’m not writing the kind of poetry I’d want to publish in the first place.” (web)

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