Eummina, Dancing

despite dancing because dancing
through sustained rhythmless blank stupor
of lithium with your sleeves rolled up dancing
to the words your mouth makes to the rhythms
of breast and contracting round buttocks
through lust for sleep lust for the African King who
got down with you under the covers standing
before me in this white girl’s living
room backdrop of galvanized metal crosses
against granny-smith-apple wall you dancing
naked pounding lifting the dust around the bending
beating bodies legs painted with grey interlocking
circles satiric chains painted on calves
and cheeks shaved heads of girls on another continent
under palm leaf hut where Bibles and white men came
with Frisbees with Jesus Loves You soccer balls
so you could stand in this living room while we watch
wave of arm and tap of shoe as you sing out the poems
you never learned to write down your boy Emmanuel
once wanted to teach you but your hand unsteady
you didn’t want him to see so you recite again and again


Black woman’s what I am, black woman’s what I be,
again and again until we lose the meaning
until we cheer and hoot and throw snaps in the air saying
you go girl thinking racial unity praise God and you dance
and sing another one for us
the one about your African King we grow quiet
and when you finish we say thank you Eummina
thank you for being real for letting
us touch you and you say it back faster than we can shake
your hand faster and faster you are saying
it back to us thank you thank you
even though we are no longer listening
thank you while we are driving
you to the shelter thank you waving
goodbye from our cars driving back up the mountain waving
while you grow smaller there sitting
on the edge of a stripped mattress your Emmanuel drawing
your Asia Starr wailing in her crib thank you
and if we listen we can still hear you saying it
tonight with the lights winking on below us if we listen
we can hear you saying thank you
thank you, dark though it is—


- after W. S. Merwin



's first story collection is forthcoming in March 2013 from Grove/Atlantic. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, AGNI, McSweeney’s, Oxford American, and elsewhere; her poetry has appeared in Blackbird and in Bomb Magazine’s Word Choice poetry series. She is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and lives with her husband and children in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.