The Forest Interviews the Wanderer
BY DONTE COLLINS
By the end of her life, eleven. Bloodroot. Dandelion. Yes—
A weeping willow hollowed by your wind, arched toward
your water lapping her dreads. Your river her cobalt crown—
Baptist in the summer, after her own mother’s casket lowered.
Otherwise a quiet winter, a slow sermon, sweatless communion.
Father Kevin’s low hum akin to the burning of coal. Khakis.
Subsidized lunch. Morning prayer. We gathered, our faces blue
in the early light, & lit a candle tall as we were, whispered
the names of saints, closed our eyes to inquire about the condition
of heaven: Pater noster qui es in coelis, sanctificetur nomen
Tuum; I thought Jesus was buried beneath the pulpit, a chip
of bone in each church. I thought The Stations of the Cross
our first map toward love. I thought baptism a barcode,
my mother’s eyes sanctified scanners. Drink this. Tried to alter
my voice in confession, heard the curtain part the air behind
me so disclosed only effortless mistakes. Returned the money.
Forgot to pray. Even the nun’s silence surveillancing—my hands
fidgeting, damp queer with desire. How a tongue haunts a tongue
scrapped Good, a raised wafer thinning in holy heat. Thuidium—Yes,
the deacon floated down the aisle, frankincense swinging at the end
of a chain wrapped, a rosary, in his fist, the phantom-pendulum
smoking at his heels. The word of God as His son’s blood warmed
the alabaster walls like moss discipled at the blade’s crimson cleave.
Miss, I thought love a reward for being clean. Red. For carrying
what you’re given, what you’re told to be. Earliella; Eucharist.
Exactly. So when he tripped, the chain catching the hem of his choir
dress, the gold plate ringing the marble floor like a bell, of course
he didn’t flinch. After falling like a branch, like a boy, he stuffed,
without his hands, each pearl of bread, soot ashed, into his mouth.
they need some of us to die
BY DONTE COLLINS
For Uncle Paul N’nem
hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. i checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god – we – the people – vs – degradation
vs – a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.
Poem Erasing itself as it’s Written
BY DONTE COLLINS
the fears of my mother came knocking and when i
opened the door
they tried to explain themselves and i understood
everything they said’
I immediately thought to apologize for seeing you dead
without your permission. Without first knocking. Silly.
Maybe I thought the casket would be closed at least until
the church opened to the public. But there you were,
powdered. Pressed. Your face a suggestion of your face.
Firm & artificially lit. I was bitter with how restless you
looked, how desperate to blink. How no one knew
you’d hurry home & grab a softer shade of red or you’d wait
in the car & have me fetch vaseline. More comfortable shoes.
Make sure I’m buried with my teeth, you recoiled, after watching
your own mother’s mouth slide & sink. Her jaw propped,
a perfect inanimate square. Where’s my mom you huffed.
Exhausted. As if to blow out a match held to your lips
by a stranger. Where’s my—Maybe I thought—Mama?
I’m not sure: As my feet moved beneath me.
moving further from mine
your body is a soft shade of red
a match held to the lips of Mama?
a perfect stranger exhaling
a perfect stranger make sure i’m buried
with my mom you blew the candles
i closed your casket was a prop sinking
where’s my home i thought & blinked
me knocking desperate as teeth
restless with apology no one knew
our comfortable bitter how you pressed
my jaw open my face was your face
recoiled at your mother’s feet
my mouth lit red with permission
to fetch you dead
fetch you dead my mouth was your mouth was your mom’s
soft teeth moving further from apology desperate strangers
exhale at a closed casket then recoil at their mother’s knocking
our mother’s knocking
is a soft exhalation
Note: “they need some of us to die” previously appeared on the Academy of American Poets website. We are grateful to reprint this poem as part of Donte Collins’s Djanikian Scholars portfolio.