4 Telling

From the authors: We created this poem with the intention of interweaving four African-American women voices, each in different US cities. This poem is in conversation with, yet markedly distinct from, Nina Simone’s ground-breaking song “4 Women” as well as her extraordinary life’s work. We began with sharing block texts, much of which was improvised. We then started interweaving our lines: adjusting for mutual inspiration, vocabulary, syntax, and punctuation as we went through a few drafts. We conferred throughout the process, agreeing on title, epigraph, and form, as well as agreeing on when the poem felt fully connected and complete.

4 Telling

By Tracie Morris, Harryette Mullen, Jo Stewart, and Yolanda Wisher

If  I am black and beautiful, I really am and I know it and I don’t care who cares or says what. —Nina Simone

No bitter peach or stranger fruit
grafted to a noble tree,
she takes her place in lineage

areola diversity, oracular
who looks to see, edges of a baby’s ear,
that child’s cuticles

in line though long shot to a throne.
How dark might she be?
How dark becomes her loveliness!

A newborn beauty in the world
old as being human.
Her own indivisible soul—

the brine’s—the duct’s—bumps in air’s chill.
Liquid wafts under
the corpuscle’s depth, hue

not one drop dilution or taint.
Showing all her colors, still too soon
to know how history hurts.

A black wail is a killer, puller into deep
half moon occludes an area
waves fan out sonic chuch

a smooth meadow rose is as black as the beach
plum, black huckleberry is black huckleberry, blue
berry is also black, a black broadest in the middle.

What else prompts imagining of her?
Bubble lineation here, here,
from oxygenature on down

above, glory as corkscrew: iron-like humor,
infinite symbols conversant toward heave,
athwart defiled gravitation

hotcomb hero hoofin it
hominy harbor unbothered
guayabera grill guise

rockin that radiator rah rah
shakin that shortcake shekere
mic check missy, a miracle

coloratura marrow, true voice on the blackhand side
how we can “tell” beyond inflection points,
a throat’s tinge

skeletal black, muscular black, breathing
from a black organ, black time passes behind
the black minute, other black dimensions

gohonzon gals harmonizing
scriptured baby hairs scissoring
some bodies to believe in, some body to bleed

peel off in black layers, limber and black at
flowering time, the fear of black, not black
but black, bone-black, sudden-black

Source: Poetry (November 2021) from Poetry Foundation

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