francine j. harris  is a Cave Canem fellow and author of the chapbook, between old trees. She is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Michigan. Her first book, allegiance, is scheduled for publication in 20102 by Wayne State University Press. On Libation: "I like Guinness. I feel like I'm back in the old country drinking at the pub near the fiery pit. I'm never sure where the old country is for black folks. But I like it there."

sift



i am not all water

nor does the cue ball sink me

nor the cowboy rope me nor the monk

sit through me.


i am a thousand faces at

the bottom of the bottom’s gravel. the

sea sharpened stones that clink and

soundless shift

make one.


and

i am not all river

not the sand on the tongue’s first someone

or even a falling star.


i am all tooth and nail breaks

that bitter underwater

and a million years of sea-smash

dirt in your eye to dig out.


i am not all nigger:

a black hole crooning in the night

a country song in a deep jukebox

chewed down and rumbling.


so who decides

who belongs here,

which tooth should have been kicked out when.

which hole ought to be filled, this

is what i think:


every city has a country bar.

i am not always so tough when i walk in.


what is rain to the desert

is just another full mouth in some place like portland.

and i wonder if there are niggers here in oregon.

black-out dolls, wet and papery

their mouths full of chalk.


and some of you

don’t go here either

looking for ground to settle

or a place to sit that isn’t soggy and cold. same here.

everything grows damp, eventually.

anything can fall in.


i can put on a bad face, understand.

i can gunload and prostrate. could swallow you whole in any town.

i could keep from throwing the beer bottle, too.

keep from tearing up the green with my teeth.


but can i keep from being silt

from slipping wherever i go


and is everything something to rot

for our eyes to wriggle out of.


but, i am not all guilty.

nor can i be all sea.

this is just

a bone song. one we can both whistle along the skin to

in a skulk drag, down


through the rift.

Two Poems by francine j. harris

Photo by Tom Haydu

another finger for the wound


(after caravaggio’s ‘doubting thomas’)



jesus. if i had your hair, i’d lasso helicopters.

i’d bring them to a standstill and lift my head up through the blades.


i’d bash my head into control towers and laugh at all the pilots who bet my scalp.

for me gravity would turn off its meter and wait, i’d make sure of it.


if i was you, jesus, i’d yell for days. i’d pull the pin

from my mouth and blow up waterfalls

just to hear the glass it breaks. i'd shred canals.

i'd blow holes into eardrums.


if i could glow like that, jesus, i’d flame.


i’d show up in parking lots with moons in my mouth.

stuff eels into my eyelids. i’d roll my own image


like a spliff. jesus, if i was black and you were the dealer

i wouldn’t believe you. you’d have three cards in a monty


and i would never pick. i’d stand off to one side

and laugh at all the lip-licking believers trying to move their eyes fast enough.


i’d keep one trick in my ear. i’d need more proof.

what if you were white on purpose?


let’s just say you were jesus. then, we could tap dance.

we’d shuffle so fast your temples

would look like a top hat


flexing fog.


in the fall, you’d rustle down leaves like tornados.

we would wear our silver-toed shoes.

i’d wipe the horizon with your laugh line. i think you and i would click.


jesus, if you were white, you’d cut your hair and be a punk.

you’d feed chlorophyll to gutters under gasoline.


maybe you’d hold my hand.

maybe you’d turn your veins out and show me your junk.

maybe for me, you’d kick.


but you. you rattle in the dirt to keep quiet.

you hide in the periphery. run from the limelight.


you die in crowds and call us lost. if you were


really jesus, we’d both be sand travelers. so what if they smirk.

if i were black and you were jesus, we

would eventually switch.


you wouldn’t mind my fingers in your gashes, in fact

it wouldn’t occur to you to be painted.

you’d understand that people are broke.


you’d rip your rib from my rib and together

we’d share the marrow’s milk.