The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: My Name & Other Languages I am Learning how to Speak by Marissa Davis

This selection, chosen by Guest Curator H.V. Cramond, is from My Name & Other Languages I am Learning how to Speak by Jai-Alai Books in 2020. 

content warning for racial language


            for Nashville, April 2018

                        : is metal & venom, lead
                that whitens our lips as we sleep. perfume
                of formaldehyde on our children’s fingers

                        : is silent. is silence. aphonic
                scream into the hostile empty:                 we,
                our tongues so raw & wrapped in cotton

                        : an elsewhere thick with smoke
                & slaughter. night hours reddened
                with the smell of dripping iron. what shade
                of blood was the last sunset. what shade of blood
                are our names, the skin that chains them.
                what shade of blood are

                        : our own dark faces
                cleaving into four. Taurean. Joe. DeEbony. Akilah.
                each sound its own spiritual. calls me by the thunder.
                in each other’s eyes, we see your eyes rise like water.
        on our sisters, we kiss the silk hills of your cheeks, we try to hold you
when we hold our fathers, try to rock you back into breath with the newborns we clutch over shivering elbows, to smooth the curdled blood off your chests & the stray curls shocked across your foreheads to wake the sweat raise the life-smell back into your skin your too-quiet skin but no—

                        : what shade of blood
                is this soil
                                                                (our soil)

                sprouting up
                black death

                                                                (these bodies: our homes, our only)

                like white magnolias

                        : see: same hue, same root.

                                i am from the southlands. & terror. i am

we say like it poured with us out our mothers’ wombs:

                                        us & placenta & kudzu & high corn & tiger lily. & nigger.
                                        & bullets

                        & chasing down the splendor

                                        of dove, doe, dark-

                                skinned sons & daughters whose every exhale

                                                should be a wide bright everything—

                the ritual hunts.

                                i am from. still. & still.

Photo by Caitlin Vazquez

Marissa Davis is a poet and translator from Paducah, Kentucky. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Poem-A-Day, Great River Review, Southeast Review, Rattle, West Branch, Mississippi Review, Muzzle Magazine, and Best New Poets, among others. Her translations are published or forthcoming in Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Mid-American Review, The Common, Rhino, American Chordata, and The Offing. Her chapbook, My Name & Other Languages I Am Learning How to Speak (Jai-Alai Books, 2020) was selected by Danez Smith for Cave Canem’s 2019 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Prize, and she was the runner-up of Narrative Magazine‘s 2021 30 Below contest. Davis holds an MFA from New York University.

H.V. Cramond holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was the founding Poetry Editor of Requited Journal for 10 years. In 2018, she helped pass the Survivor’s Bill of Rights as the Illinois organizer for Rise. Recent work can be found in Soundless Poetry, Ignavia, death hums, Crack the Spine, BlazeVOX, Menacing Hedge, Adanna, So to Speak, Thank You for Swallowing, Dusie, Masque & Spectacle, Matter, and at

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