Spotlight Poet: Donika Ross

October 12, 2011
By

Whale

Know, first, that she does not remain
behind the baleen forever.

Know, too, that the whale is unaware
of the woman drowning on its tongue.

And knowing this, recall the keening,
the slow build of sound in the body;

that we were afraid and pressed our fear
low in our breast, held it alongside our breath;

that the tenor of our grief matched,
so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;

how finally there was no whale
or breath or sound or woman;

how, finally, there was only the body,
rising through the water toward the sun.

 

Arkansas Love Song

Fences break a landscape
the way a body makes
a road—somewhere between

Memphis and home,
the shoulder collects masses
of hide and blood and white,

white tendon. The road binds
us, one to another,
and I try to make the binding

mean something about family
and forgetting and the failures
of resurrection. This

is a failure. The disarticulated
wing stands for a disarticulated
wing. The rusted breast, the same.

This is not about my mother.
Another failure.
It is about nothing else.

 

Where she is opened. Where she is closed.

When he opens her chest, separates the flat skin
of one breast from the other, breaks the hinge of ribs,
and begins, slowly, to evacuate her organs, she is silent.

He hollows her like a gourd, places her heart
below her lungs, scrapes the ribs clean of fat
and gristle with his thick fingers. He says, Now you are ready,

and climbs inside. But she is not ready for the dry bulk
of his body curled inside her own. She is not ready to exhale
his breath, cannot bear both him and herself,

but he says, Carry me, and she carries him beneath her
knitted ribs, her hard breasts. He is the heart now,
the lungs and stomach that she cannot live without.

 

“Arkansas Love Song” was first published in Indiana Review and ”Whale” in Hayden’s Ferry.


Donika Ross received her M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and a former fellow of the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review,TORCHIndiana ReviewQuarterly West, and Best New Poets 2007. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Vanderbilt University and is the Poetry Consultant for The Feminist Wire.

 

20 Responses to Spotlight Poet: Donika Ross

  1. Tamura Freeman on October 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I enjoyed reading your work! It wasn't until I became an adult that I could see so many others write poetry like myself.

  2. Tamura Freeman on October 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I enjoyed reading your work! It wasn't until I became an adult that I could see so many others write poetry like myself.

  3. Tamura Freeman on October 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I enjoyed reading your work! It wasn't until I became an adult that I could see so many others write poetry like myself.

  4. Tamura Freeman on October 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I enjoyed reading your work! It wasn't until I became an adult that I could see so many others write poetry like myself.

  5. Ama on October 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I can't wait for a book of D. Ross poems. The last three lines of "Arkansas Love Song" cut straight to the heart and each poem is so clean and so fine.

    • donika on October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks, Ama. I wrote ALS at CC our first year. I think I felt like I was only heart that year.

  6. Ama on October 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I can't wait for a book of D. Ross poems. The last three lines of "Arkansas Love Song" cut straight to the heart and each poem is so clean and so fine.

    • donika on October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks, Ama. I wrote ALS at CC our first year. I think I felt like I was only heart that year.

  7. Ama on October 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I can't wait for a book of D. Ross poems. The last three lines of "Arkansas Love Song" cut straight to the heart and each poem is so clean and so fine.

    • donika on October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks, Ama. I wrote ALS at CC our first year. I think I felt like I was only heart that year.

  8. Ama on October 13, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I can't wait for a book of D. Ross poems. The last three lines of "Arkansas Love Song" cut straight to the heart and each poem is so clean and so fine.

    • donika on October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks, Ama. I wrote ALS at CC our first year. I think I felt like I was only heart that year.

  9. Jo on October 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Beautiful and finely crafted words from a woman who is the same. Your words transport me to new territory and hold me there.

  10. Jo on October 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Beautiful and finely crafted words from a woman who is the same. Your words transport me to new territory and hold me there.

  11. Jo on October 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Beautiful and finely crafted words from a woman who is the same. Your words transport me to new territory and hold me there.

  12. Jo on October 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Beautiful and finely crafted words from a woman who is the same. Your words transport me to new territory and hold me there.

  13. Carlisha Tennille on October 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Beautiful, D. So lovely.
    I am still left speechless any time I read:
    "the tenor of our grief matched,
    so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;" For me, that line sums up the history of the world. That's all. Bravo, sister.

  14. Carlisha Tennille on October 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Beautiful, D. So lovely.
    I am still left speechless any time I read:
    "the tenor of our grief matched,
    so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;" For me, that line sums up the history of the world. That's all. Bravo, sister.

  15. Carlisha Tennille on October 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Beautiful, D. So lovely.
    I am still left speechless any time I read:
    "the tenor of our grief matched,
    so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;" For me, that line sums up the history of the world. That's all. Bravo, sister.

  16. Carlisha Tennille on October 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Beautiful, D. So lovely.
    I am still left speechless any time I read:
    "the tenor of our grief matched,
    so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;" For me, that line sums up the history of the world. That's all. Bravo, sister.

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