I’m Offered to Officiate a Plantation Wedding
Mice and rats don’t crawl over her
In a crawlspace. She does not drill
A hole in it to watch her children;
Lay on her back or stomach; stop
Hiding for a moment to exercise out
Of a binocular, lack of ventilation,
Room to sleep on her side. She will not
Live in an attic for seven years, hunch
And stoop to scoop cotton from the sharp
That was the notes, semitones, and needles of
Lives. She carries no sack of three hundred
Pounds, edges of bolls, tusks slicing fingers.
Whipping, shackling, beating, branding, slaving
Depending on the mother—cruelty in the house
Depending on the color—she will never have her baby
Killed with a cow’s skin. She will not be shot
For sleeping, praying, eating, writing, or reading.
Shackles, and chattel; slaves shuttlecocks between
Slaveholders, costed based on who thrives best
On cold bacon; scanty cornmeal, half a pound of salt pork
Appears solely in books for her.
Her eyes know nothing of the lash that is lightning
Heating the air it passes through to fifty thousand
Degrees—five times hotter than the surface of the sun—
Five times less hot than the pressure of slaves ploughing
In the lead of spaces between rows. If nature relaxes,
The sun shys from shining, and torrents feel a thrill—beginning
To spit in the face of the earth, joking and giggling rain—
Perhaps, a pulled tooth, cut toe, hanged in front
Of now apologizing nature, she basks.
They had no milk, suffered rickets and calcium deficiency,
Faced impairments, had no repairers, prepared corn-
Ucopias for families. Slave children may get milk,
If everyone and everything, even the pets, got milk first.
No punishment was without a concert hall, drapes broke up,
Spotlight sped to slaves who lowered their cotton capacity.
One collar was put around the neck with spikes, shutting out
Sleep; one collar had a bell on it, ringing with movements
Like cows walking. Slaves had brands on their shoulders.
I am leaving a globe of gripes out; grasping the dirt
Of my limbic system; think these fragments in a fraction—
The iron muzzle inhibits fruit, its taste or my tongue unraveling—
Open the latch of the window, wonder how far away
The ground is; tell her politely, no thank you.
A Past Teacher
Eighteen to twenty-five, perhaps under forty
If acute, muscular, married, if youthful looking
In the face—I think verbatim—beckons
For bottoms, student-professor, pedagogical kink,
Hairless, thin—and black, apparently pluses—shameless,
He writes. Forty, he writes, mobile host. He writes
Must be called daddy. I would gesture to him, as
Is habit, persuading people with teaching sessions.
Though I am impotent, can only coax reworks through
Wills, and through a hookup app, there are so many
Straw mans for weaponry: I admit I could not teach
A man today. He is still somewhere, asking if someone is
Helpless, somehow, how far are they. I leave that world
And wonder: who is tenacious, who took my place.
A few good words with Prince
BVS: What drew me to “I’m Offered to Officiate a Plantation Wedding” is your radical refusal to let a space like a plantation—a site of racialized (and sexualized) violence—become a romantic backdrop for a formal declaration of love within the world of the poem, while at the same time, pointing to the fact that we are often tagged as “angry” or “aggressive” when we respond to a request like that with anything other than “no thank you.” Talk a little bit about that tension/juxtaposition—the world of the poem, in which you have freedom of tongue and an avenue for anger, and the world of, well, the world, where perhaps you do not.
PB: I can not navigate any community freely, but I find freedom inside myself, then on the page. In many ways, this type of freedom is necessary, for I can not be angry anywhere I want, and certainly not to anyone I choose. The infinity of the page is enough for me. Yet, I still have to refuse the questioner out loud, symbolic of publishing a poem like this in the first place. Emotions need a channel, and all of mine find theirs in a poem. When the channel floods, words become literally and figuratively louder. The refusal had to be explicitly in the poem, because my refusals and acceptances are always in poetry. I will never have the complete freedom to be quiet, even if the listener—or reader—hears nothing.
BVS: Thinking about both the digital hook-up app world of “A Past Teacher” and the older-school, but generally identical world of personal ads in the newspaper, what would your call for a reader of your poetry look like? Who is/are your ideal reader(s)?
PB: Like James Baldwin, I do not write with a reader in mind, but unlike him, it is not to find out the unknown about myself (The Art of Fiction, Paris Review). I try to approach poetry with a notion the Romantics had, of having my thoughts and emotions already recollected, thus having my revelation afterward in my head and hands before I write the poem. I am writing to myself, but I like sharing what I have written down with others who are doing the same, albeit for possibly different reasons.
BVS: We all know that February is Black History Month, so I like to think of every other month as Black Futures Month—what new/emerging black writers are drawing you to them these days?
PB: Lyrik Courtney, Imani Davis, Kyle Lopez, Deon Robinson, Taylor Byas, dezireé a. brown, Dāshaun Washington, Olatunde Osinaike, Jason Harris, and Kevin Latimer all write excellent poetry. They write in entirely different ways and show that black poetry has no limit.
Prince Bush is a poet in Nashville, TN with poetry in Cincinnati Review, Cotton Xenomorph, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pleiades: Literature in Context, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere. He was a 2019 Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets Fellow and a nominee for The Pushcart Prize.