Two Poems by zakia henderson-brown


you walk into the year and the room fills up
with what you have: greenery, locked in weeds
tangled toward the sky

and you believe that nothing will burn
though the wind caterwauls
and a suck hole

stalks your steps, licking at your heels
awaiting its take. you return to the hospital
where other people

handle kismet like a fig fat on a sinewy branch
and this time it’s your kin that life’s goons prowl
setting in early

on your brother and his many organs. rare
his wowed doctors will say, the worst
possible sound, you think

with its invisible ellipsis, and you repeat it
until it is an armada between your teeth:
rarerarerare, nonsense

that you tongue around out of habit long after the days
begin to feel like rope fastening around everything
and too soon and too tightly.

then the room is electric with what you don’t have
and when you walk only ghosts encumber you
your young face

a goldbrick to your grief, a deadbolt. before you know
if your clan will mark this year as corked with triumph
or as the year

when nothing would grow
and fire took with the wind
you turn your faces

into light traps
war painted on
burgeoning up the rope
weeding your own jungle
amorphous, large
telling the rare thing:
we will kill you
before you kill ours

it becomes simple: burn,
die, yours will be
the damn wake

and then spitting
and laughing
and lighting the match
with chemo.


Before his mouth formed muscle enough

            to glue syllables together, before

a full set of teeth, my three year-old father

            saw Emmett Till’s northern skull

pulped open: his first lucid memory.

            His southern town was gun-split, swollen shut

with slow-tongued mobs whose throats retched

            red with epithets, skin bound by tradition.

Alive, James Chaney was the whisper

            in a fringe town’s trees, twinkle

in the nation’s eye. When federal divers fished

            the Mississippi for his flesh

he had already turned to spook

            and their nets ran so fat with bones —

disfigured with age and crime —

            they had to send some back.

The same summer, before my father’s voice

            evened with bass, he waded that river

damn near dyed red, cautious

            of swallowing even small drops

of history. By the time he was six feet

            with headlights turned north, something guttural

something almost animal itching his twang

            Mississippi was already worked

into my genes, a nascent veined tick.