Finally, I am the sea sponge / my hair wanted of me / all kinky and adamant / porous and stubborn to the touch / I was mocked in my youth / for not knowing how to swim / the black body can only / float / my mother cannot swim / grandmother cannot swim / so I learned to live / after drowning / Who wants my limbs / take them / I am animal / I am not / wreathed with seaweed red and brown / mermaids envy my certainty / so do / the cops / who police my body they think / owns me / what / a mistake / what / do they know / kingdom: Animalia / phylum: Porifera / I will not scrub / your dishes clean / spotless of the crumbs / resting on your devil shoulders / I am no monster / I am the sea / of boney ankles / and ashy knees / I always hold my breath / above water
Something was off with my
Halloween costume. I Dream
of Jeannie: hot pink crop top,
billowing pants. Between
my two-piece was a polyester
stomach, light skinned,
that eclipsed my dark navel. What
a trick, I thought, Frankenstein’s
monster living in my own body.
I feared my mouth. If I swallowed
every last piece of food that landed
on my tongue, whose stomach
would my meal belong to?
A few good words with Shonté
PDS: In “Sea Sponge,” you use a non-normative punctuation that’s one of my favorite methods of interruption—the forward slash. How did you want this stylistic move to be understood by your reader? What pushed you to make this choice in pause-making, as opposed to a comma or a line break?
SD: The forward slash is also one of my favorites. In my mind, “Sea Sponge” is a series of thoughts that all spill together, and the forward slashes works the chain that links them. That’s also why I wrote it as a prose poem, because I wanted the reader to keep moving. The forward slashes work as quick pauses, rather than a big pause in a line break. It’s like the speaker is trying rushing through her thoughts, and the forward slashes are there to help her catch her breath.
PDS: “Halloween, 1999” invited me to grapple with two things—first, how characters of color, like the brown-skinned Princess Jasmine, are white-washed in performance (a white woman voiced her character in the Disney film) and in capitalist reproduction (the speaker’s light-skinned Halloween costume), and secondly, how black femme/female bodies are so often subsumed by the white gaze (a theme that I believe runs through both poems). How do you understand your black body as a “Frankenstein’s monster living in my own body” and also recognize that “I am no monster / I am the sea”?
SD: I see these two poems as an evolution of thought and love for myself. For “Halloween, 1999,” I tapped back into my 7-year-old mind, where I knew my costume clearly did not match skin color, and considered myself the issue, not the costume. “Sea Sponge” was written by 2016 me, who is much angrier, more cognizant of the ways Black people are discriminated against and how dark skin is seen as inferior in beauty. Throughout my childhood, I saw myself as a monster and unwanted, but now I finally realize where that hatred originated from, and now I actively combat it.
PDS: What music feels like poetry to you? What records connect you to your voice as a writer?
SD: I find poetry in all sorts of music. Beyoncé and Solgange’s albums (Lemonade and A Seat at The Table) have spoken to me lately, and have really helped understand my own voice as a Black woman. But to be honest, most times I find myself going back to older albums, like Fiona Apple’s Tidal. Whenever I’m in need of some inspiration, I listen to her lyrics. Just thinking about the album now makes me want to listen to it again.
Shonté Daniels is a poet and video game critic. She is currently an editorial associate at Rewire. Her poetry has appeared or are forthcoming in Apogee, Ambit, and Phoebe, among other journals. She was a finalist in Phoebe’s Greg Grummer Poetry Contest. Her games writing has appeared in Motherboard, Waypoint, Kill Screen, and elsewhere. Follow Shonté on Twitter @Johnnyxh, or visit her website Shonte-Daniels.com