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Ode to the Hyphen ____________
No dash, minus sign or broken line, you fill /
and make continuous until there is no pause /
for breath or thought between otherwise well-spaced words. /
Oh, the way you change man eating shark to man-eating-shark. /
I see you in anti-intellectual working to keep those ‘I’s from merging /
into a diphthong and there in syl-lab-i-fi-ca-tion. /
You compound-modifying, line-wrapping wonder, /
under your influence, adjectival phrases flourish
like bubble-gum-flavored or spine-tinglingly-sensational.
Then you turn mister into m-i-s-t-e-r-(period).
I have never mulled over you between x and ray,
first and class, or out and of and body. Yet now, here you are
in the signature I practice within the margins
of my poems, as if there is this fracture in need of bracing
with surgical grade stainless steel, holding bone to bone
until it fuses.
Burning, Looping, Patching
For now, it is ’63, again,
there will be bombs and dogs,
another fire hose let loose
Suits starched, pressed, sweat
marinated, marching for a yes
or okay, you may…,
arm-linked chains stand against veins
throbbing with acidic no’s.
The front line is full
of women ….and men who know battles
at home and abroad, as in across town.
I made it to womanhood
Again, it is before the ‘70s and Kumbaya
and s’mores. Only smoldering
demands fanned by domestic winds. They will
burn and burn brightly.
Those flames barrel through
leaving a trail of absence
all rising out from beneath a kitchen table classroom.
I have no words here,
only finger painted lines. But later, as in now, I will manage
……of memory, lilacs and bones.
There is something to be made of rubble.
I made it to womanhood
Bible Study class memory verses echo
in hollowed spaces where we thought
Sunday mornings were for renewal,
through shattered cinder blocks
for Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia.
The men found them,
still stockinged or lace socked
with patent leather purses and hymnals nearby.
Yes, Papa-Uncle-Brother-Sir will pray
in pulpits holding four pictures,
in back rooms in closed sessions
for the drawing of plans, debates over philosophies,
the plotting of routes.
Well I was at the breakfast table Monday morning,
back… then… there, where ladies passed brew-filled cups,
rocked in chairs and wrapped arms around themselves.
Me, steeped in their voices,
……….fuck the Movement, we want
……….our babies back.
vinegar-fed words, never to leave the room.
My throat burned when Auntie-Sister-Ma’am tucked
blouses into skirts and scattered
down the street home.
I made it to womanhood.
I am still on the street
where streams of stories
renew smoke between us,
all the us’s,
still fanning embers,
the circumference of our flames.
“Burning, Looping, Patching” owes much to Alice Randall’s Rebel Yell.
Stephanie Pruitt is a Cave Canem Fellow and member of the Affrilachian Poets. She received the 2010 Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2009 Sedberry Prize. Essence Magazine selected her as one of their “40 Favorite Poets” in 2010. Stephanie is the author of I Am: A Poetic Journey Towards Self Definition and a chapbook entitled Life on Lay-a-way in addition to a spoken word CD, Choice Words. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Vanderbilt University and is currently the Poet-in-Residence at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. Stephanie is a Lecturer in Vanderbilt University’s English Department in Nashville, TN.