Back to Issue Forty-Six


When Tar Baby Eats the Moon



My belly rounds, the dark inside of a melon
before it’s split.
I am hungry

but this food has been laid out for you.
This river-caught fish

and its paling eyes. These potatoes blackened in ashes.
The plate trembles
in my lap

from the weight of wrens and ants. My hands
would rather hold

my stomach than the hoecake. It’s starting to rot.
My belly rounds
but my back

is tall as instruction. My spine is the shadow
of a whip

over the head of a child. The inner core
of a tree
is not red

until the flint breaks it open. Inside, don’t I
hold a loaf

of earth that cannot be carved? My inky throat,
its dark column
of night on

which you
could pin your moon. My stomach full
of dusty coal,

indigo, corn tassel, and tobacco. My mouth, a black
pocket of mouth
if bound closed.

Hasn’t someone
affixed it with a ribbon to make
me smile? I

want to eat, but who will let me ink
a pearly biscuit,
smudge a rosy

slice of ham?
I new moon, burgeon with braided root,
balm, red embers.

When I am split what will you find inside?
I consume stone.

Without bones, I am the dark space that holds
up a halo.
What eats light

feeds me.  My stomach, with an eclipse warming inside.





Before the tale—hear first the color—
the not-white whites of animal eyes, tufts of a fawn’s spots before they rise

out of its fine-haired coat. Cream
is a pale meal kept in a crock while Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox work

saw blades at wood, rakes at gravel.
The river, with its subtle teeth, cools the jug in its mouth. Cream is

a means to mix or not—
the elevation of what separates—rich, thick, too much bloat. What color doesn’t have

a story in its spine? The near-
butter topping the churn. Painful satisfaction. Cream is a light-weight victim of an assailant.

An uncomfortable meal. The finest. Why
is the best part the part that rises? Brer Fox will call him a thief

when Brer Rabbit tilts the jug
back before their labor is done. The cold shock will land within his warm body,

reaching with sharp hands, through his stomach
into his blood, his breath. Not white, but a pale cousin. The part of speech

that rises, frothy. Kinsman of near-clear
weak milk, light as a whisper. Cream, with its thunder-thick voice. I don’t want

to talk to you in sentences. I
only want the best parts. Cream, a verb. As in, cream sugars with the butter

but do not overbeat. There is a part
of everything that wants to separate from itself and lift away. As though a bird’s wing

could fly from its claw. As though
we could pare the music rising from our heads from the low red bass

of the heart, the ragged slouch sound
of dragging feet. The rise, the rich delicacy. What story doesn’t have color in its spine?

Brer Fox, his accusations wile. His mouth
empty but for ivory teeth. When hungry, it is easy to anticipate being wronged

by nature, by nothing.
What is stealing food to an animal? Food within reach is made to be eaten.

Rachel Nelson is a Cave Canem fellow and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, where she won a Hopwood prize for playwriting. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the museum of americana, Michigan Quarterly Review, Muzzle Magazine, Pleiades, Thrush, and elsewhere. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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