The whispers started when the midwife
kept fishing eight-pound black boys
from Amanda Ellen’s strong thighs.
All five of them born alive.
In the 1930s it was too much,
this fortune of boys dangling in front of the depression,
fat with the promise of more.
All of them muscle and clench. Born with heads full
of hair, and fists bared like teeth.
They never learned to put their hands down.
Kept them ready when the white boys threatened
to cut them off and stuff them in their mouths.
There were too many whispers
when each survived the rope, war overseas, lucky,
unscarred and handsome in uniform.
All came back to land they owned, and pretty wives
they built houses and hung curtains for.
In 1956, one of the brothers, my grandfather,
already had eight mouths to feed and the audacity
to buy a bright red tractor. They watched him
sit on top of all that brand new machine and spit,
What can we break him with?
Later, he will say it was an accident,
that the house was hit by lightning.
No one will remember any storm that night.
It was the whispers that shot him
from his sleep. Before the porch lit up the windows,
he saw ghosts through the white curtains.
My grandfather piled his wide-eyed babies
on a mattress, dragging them like a sled
through the determined choke of a burning house.
When the fire department arrived, no one hurried
to put out the scorched bodies
of tables and chairs. They whispered how lucky
they made it out alive to stand in the yard and watch.
Never your bird, never finch,
never graceful feathered thing.
Maybe litany molting
what it can’t heal. Maybe pinwheel
started with breath, whispering
I love you or today, I will try. Maybe knife
to core the apple of my eye, a blade that wants you
blind. Maybe red kitchen where the kettle is hoarse
from heat underneath, where I boil my tongue
to be rid of its stutter, maybe humming
while it sweeps the bodies of dead
wasps from its windowsill, but never your bird
sitting pretty and ornamental.
Maybe a well-lit room that hurts your eyes
before it swallows you, or an opening
of skirt holding onto the hips of a woman
that wears it well, or a cavity
in the yard where I want to lay
the language of better love, but never
your canary, parakeet, sweet
feathered thing that lives
just to sing for you.
About the author:
Krysten Hill is an educator, writer, and performer who has showcased her poetry on stage at The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Blacksmith House, The Haley House, Cantab Lounge, Merrimack College, and many others. She received her MFA in poetry from UMass Boston where she currently teaches. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, B O D Y, Muzzle, PANK, Winter Tangerine Review, apt, Amethyst Arsenic, Damfino, and other places. She is the recipient of the 2016 St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Her forthcoming chapbook, How Her Spirit Got Out, will be released by Aforementioned Productions in December of 2016.