Sign. Signifier. Signify. Signified: an American African ghazal
I’ve heard Death is a white man in black
tie, a man captive in a trick of black.
I hear myth, an earthworm
moving an inch at a time, urging black
earth aside. Elms in winter
displace heat, turn black
as damaged snow. In theatres before curtains
release and withdraw from black,
music lingers, intactly absent. Silence.
Exercise patience. How does black
myth survive? I hear a black
man in red face, red stripes slashing
through hair is death. Black
mothers in kitchens seduce flour
into loaves of bread. And men, black
as coal, squeeze the necks of cotton
stalks, anticipate struggle, create black
gospel, black blues, black jazz, hear
music’s possibilities. Unrelenting black
whips damage-myth their beaten backs.
In Europe the black plague created black
deaths two hundred years prior
to Shakespeare’s Othello, the black
moor, strangled his wife, prior
to the introduction of black
comedy. Before the stock market collapsed in ’87,
brokers held Monday until it too could become black.
Waiting around for another invention, mail lost
its innocence to black, then black sex, black satire, black
ice. Too clever for this set-up? Soon,
dawn will erupt, precise, breathtaking, the un
of black. And here we linger in black
images, repeating phrases as if they are truth.
As if the structural design of words hold black
like fear. The myths fall in on themselves.
But how we hunt for the blackest
diamonds, the blackest metaphor. Strangers live,
resilient, under interstate overpasses, black
as exhaust and valleys of ashbuds. Heavy as rain
clouds, infinite as nebula. On the corner, a black
man contains himself in wilting dust particles, jaded
as tossed napkins, spare change, coffee, crows.
For J., whom I never bothered for a kiss
This couch is a bevy of blue jays straining to get out. No branches here. No berries twisting with red juices. I kneel, bury my mouth in the belly of one cushion; notice on jay fly to another; count the stitches. My mother counts the syllables:
And his face is next to mine, devoid of color in this junior high school yearbook. My mother wants to know if his eyes are blue. I say, black and white, just like the photo. Another list of syllables spills from her mouth; another rush of blood from my back. This white boy cannot love you, my mother says. His ancestors owned slaves, beat them with whips. The way you now beat me, I dare not ask. He’ll never understand the absence of color in flesh, my mother says. So busy with the south in her, she never notices her daughter’s flesh ripping beneath the branch. She raises her hand, counts. The blood continues. The jays frantic for the branch in my mother’s hand.
Metta Sáma is the fiction editor of ragazine and a book reviewer at hercircle. Her poems and essays have
appeared in Drunken Boat, Vinyl, Jubilat, Pebble Lake Review, Mentor and Muse: Essays from Poets to Poets, among other publications.