When Tar Baby Eats the Moon
BY RACHEL NELSON
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
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.
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.
BY RACHEL NELSON
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.