The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: ADRIENNE OLIVER
from Four Women
II. Aunt Sarah & the architecture of memory
Funny. When he was a baby, an insomniac, you would sing across the hall to him at night, do you remember that? I’d wake with milk dripping into my armpits, and there you were whispering, and him. He never cried, like you wailed. He just stared.
I called to tell you of my dream last night.
I did have a dream last night.
I had a dream about you last night.
The crunch of a carrot, gnawed.
You were standing on the swing-set
remember the Cleveland house?
and that neighbor girl slipped
through the broken chain-link,
and there was a tub of dirt to the side,
I can’t remember why now. But
in the bucket was this drowned bird,
I think it was grey or yellow or maybe a snake,
but it was so big, and the girl ran off again.
I think her name was Penny.
But you leaned over and lifted this sopping
thing and carried it off, and I watched you walk
past the ivy, and then you were gone.
A carrot crunch.
Do you ever wonder about peacocks? Or whales? In captivity –
A quick whipping swallow of hot liquid.
– in tanks.
Call me. We’re in the city.
III. a Sweet Thing
in September, there were earlier sunsets, and also you died. weeks before, we took up a love affair with spaghetti squash, twirling tendrils of the farm’s majesty about forks, stabbing at feelings, our plates slick with butter. and now you were splayed in pieces (I imagine) on a street whose name I could not pronounce because I never really committed to Spanish. days and then, we arrived home to a black bird on the porch. Mothers aren’t meant to mourn their babies – maybe death is like that: an anthology of small things like the cold porch, or the distance between the moon and Vietnam, or the exact shade of pink which spread, blotchy, across my weepy round face. I tried a sharp red lipstick in winter, and we’re thinking of giving up the cat. and the elfling mimics nature documentaries now, and etches sturdy Ps and I’ve allowed two lips to kiss mine.
eats leftovers standing in the kitchen, upright and cold.
melodic balladeers crooning from a thrifted record player, ants
peeking from the windowsill, oregano-soaked cotton balls worrying
their path. Arthropods are not known for their antioxidant concerns.
wakes before dawn, her Moon’s fingers entangled in sweaty curls
at the base of her neck. swift reckoning of sunlight, violent exposure,
solitary revolutions swaddling a sanctuary of earthly limbs, and the
cacophonous stirring of hidden desire. Chimeric motherhood, tethered.
learned Nina’s Non Me Quitte Pas on the school bus, twirling daydreams
round expectations, scattering pistachio seeds beneath the seat, unloved
guts snuck furiously into the margins, hieroglyphics outside the theatre’s
lullaby of bleeding light. Origami, those black girls, folding as swans.
shakes the foot of a crossed leg, the lizards scuttling haphazardly. dust
on fire, check the locks three then four times. small things scatter silently,
racing at walls, begging for cracks, skin speckling a road map. a tour guide
at the Sistine Chapel knows the salty lopping of her tears against tile.
Poet, or woman on earth:
A few good words with Adrienne
BVS: I loved engaging with “Saffronia” because it feels like an ode to black femmeness through a specific, named lens. Tell us a little about your love for yourself/community/ lineage, and your own identity speaks in your work.
AO: in truth, I’m not sure I consciously interrogated either my Self, my lineage, or my love for either/both until motherhood. I don’t mean to imply some sort of blind ignorance – I knew my people, my stories, myself, but it pales in comparison to the depth of this work in my daily existence now. and motherhood did that. when my daughter was born, there was a reckoning which illuminated a woefully complacent relationship with my Blackness as a light-skinned mixed race woman. since, with grace and certainty and a wide-open heart, my identity is inextricable from my work. and so I am preoccupied with the complexities, magic, and dualities of black + brown femmeness and womxnhood.
BVS: There is a strong maternal presence in the subjects of these poems—there seems to be a focus on someone connected deeply to the speaker and how they grew & how they know themselves. What does writing the mother (or the maternal-familial) free in you?
AO: here again, motherhood is my compass. I will candidly name that I escaped abuse to live this journey just me + my moon, and my work is very much a meditation on the wild peace and ecstatic liberation this has brought to my door. I have been gently mothered by women across space and time, and they live in my soul, each serving my child when called; sometimes I think I write to free their voice. this allows me to continually unbridle my spirit, which is – frankly – grand.
BVS: As 2019 opens up for us, I wonder what books you turn to to build out a strong, joyful new year? What work feels like a fresh start or a new beginning?
AO: much of my days are spent in educational spheres; I’m reading a good deal of texts concerned with disrupting the reproductive and predictive patterns of race in education. this brings me joy, and this list is long. in fact, any list of joy-bringing books would be lengthy and still lacking, but one text in particular that literally bridged the new year for me is Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. in 2019, I’m liberating my “to read” list, and that’s been waiting too long in the wings.
Adrienne Oliver is a memoirist, performer, educator, and single mother whose work encircles the performance of womanhood, the unfolding of motherhood, and the intersections of the magical and mundane.