September 7, 2016

Tiana Clark


Pastor John stood over her body—
shouted scripture as she writhed in the jerk
of undulations that lit her bones on fire. Her eyes
slid to the back of her head slick as marbles. Only
the white jelly of sclera shone between the flutter
of eyelash flicks moored to the mouth of some
netherworld. I stood back in awe and in horror
like the first time I watched porn. Excited, because
we were inside the same heat as each of our hands
stretched forward, flexed as church fans we stroked
the flames of spirit higher and higher. She frothed
her lips to a disc of crema, cried and whimpered
almost like a self-soothing baby. Our finger pads
followed the bars on the pages of a hymnal book.
My youth group spoke as a choir in tongues, our
syllabic utterings were plucked marionette strings
that pulled her limbs to spasms. Pastor John said
she had a demon of lust, a Jezebel Spirit. He said
we had to pray louder and harder, had to touch her
arms and her sides, had to deliver the ember of her
sins from the second crust of hell. But I knew this
girl that twitched on the floor. Sarah was my older
friend. And yes, she made out with boys. And yes,
I saw how the boys looked at her breasts, like the way
they looked at them now when she jiggled—buoyant
as sunny side up eggs. As if I could pierce her yolks
with my praying fingers, bloodletting buttery sex.
She was like me: a girl with no father, a girl that
made God her father, a girl that wanted to be saved,
but mostly loved. She gave her body to greasy boys,
like the way she gave her body to all of us in that
musty cabin outside of the glowing gold buckle
of the Bible Belt for a church retreat.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016


Tiana Clark: “I agree with Terrance Hayes: ‘… everything is a metaphor for sex.’ This poem evolved while unpacking my religious upbringing by converging the sacred and the sensual, the holy and the profane. Ranier Maria Rilke said ‘… the artist’s experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss.’ When I decided to stop writing out of fear, the mist began to rise when my pen slid across the page. This is why I love to write poetry—because of the steam, that ineffable cloud that embodies the nebulous memories inside our minds.” (web)

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March 28, 2016

Tiana Clark


Took me
thirty years to say
I’m glad
I don’t pass for white.
those words into the dark
in my palm like a fortune:
a life line
of futures I wanted to begin.
Like the way
the haze of summer heat
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
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
wanted as their hands
each European request,
a Russian
nesting doll I kept
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
in us, once we have
stopped trying
to become the other?

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner


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.” (web)

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July 26, 2015

Tiana Clark


after Emily Dickinson

Because I did not turn my signal on for Death—

Sandy speaks to me
beyond her grave
her voice on YouTube—

He harshly stopped for me—

The body is gone
& the words remain
she says,
You can’t tell me God ain’t good.
& I want to believe her
but how did you die
& when did the murdering start?

The police car held but just Ourselves—

So many questions
you cannot answer
& They will not answer
but you testify in Death.
She says again,
You can’t tell me God ain’t good
& I want to believe her.
I am a black woman, too—
I fasten my seatbelt—
I check the speed limit—
push the needle to hover
just under 30 mph.
I click the turn signal in my car
& I say her name.

And Immortality.

Poets Respond
July 26, 2015

[download audio]


Tiana Clark: “In a voicemail Sandra Bland left during her time in jail, in regards to her situation, she said she was “at a loss for words.” I have felt that speechlessness all week as I was processing how I felt about what happened, especially being a black woman in America. I found myself becoming anxious while driving in my car—wondering will I be next? People have been posting her YouTube videos from her channel, Sandy Speaks. I was especially taken with one video; in it she has just survived an accident where a motorcycle crashed into her car. In the video she repeats, “You can’t tell me God ain’t good,” over and over again. I started crying, as she was crying in the video. It felt like a release of my grief and I began to write this poem for her. Let us not forget, let us keep saying her name.” (website)

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