Back to Issue Thirty-Seven

The Forest Interviews the Wanderer


2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


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


2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


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


2021 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


‘last night
the fears of my mother came knocking and when i
opened the door
they tried to explain themselves and i understood
everything they said’
—Lucille Clifton

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—M​aybe I thought​—Mama​?
I’m not sure: As my feet moved beneath me.
Your body,
moving further
from mine.


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

of apology

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.

Donte Collins is held. Black. Adopted. Queer. A surrealist blues poet haunted by the 1960’s Black Arts Movement. Named the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Saint Paul, Minnesota, they are the 2018 McKnight Artist Fellowship recipient for Spoken Word administered by the Loft Literary Center and winner of the Most Promising Young Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets. They are the author of the poetry collection “Autopsy” (Button Poetry, 2017), a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award. Collins is the recipient of the 2016 Mitchell Prize in Poetry from Augsburg University and is currently the program director of Black Table Arts, a community-driven arts cooperative located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, gathering Black communities through the arts toward better Black futures.

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