2020 estranged me from the language of desire.

2020 was not a great year for wishing, yearning or urgent celestial requests. Better to be thankful for the good than allow wanting to rush in and fill up all the empty space of isolation. But prolonged removal from the experience of desire is deadening. I chose this week's poem for its vexed wishfulness, its hoping for a hardness to meet the world and a tenderness visible only to "the night-eyed, who know how to look, what lies within." 

Last year, I asked myself for patience. This year, for strength. 

her tin skin
By Evie Shockley

i want her tin skin. i want
       her militant barbie breast,
resistant, cupped, no, cocked
       in the V of her elbow. i want
my curves mountainous
and locked. i want her
       arabesque eyes, i want her
tar markings, her curlicues,
       i want her tin skin. she
is a tree, her hair a forest
of strength. i want to be
       adorned with bottles. i
want my brownness
       to cover all but the silver
edges of my tin skin. my
sculptor should have made
       me like her round-bellied
maker hewed her: with chain-
       saw in hand, roughly. cut
away from me everything
but the semblance of tender.
       let nothing but my flexed
foot, toeing childhood, tell
     the night-eyed, who know
how to look, what lies within.

—after alison saar’s “compton nocturne

"her tin skin" is a work of ekphrasis responding to the above lithograph of a recumbent woman, Alison Saar's "Compton Nocturne." This poem was originally published in Shockley's book, the new black (Wesleyan University Press, 2011). I read it on The Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation's profile of Shockley includes this wonderful quote from an interview with The Dead Mule: “[W]hat I mean when I speak of myself as a ‘southern poet’ is that I grew up: hearing certain accents and vocabularies and speech patterns that were the aural essence of ‘home’ or the audible signal of danger, depending; thinking that racism wasn’t much of a problem in other parts of the country; eating a cuisine that was originally developed under conditions of make-do and make-last; enjoying five- or six-month summers and getting ‘snow days’ out of school when the forecast called for nothing other than ‘possible icy conditions’; knowing that my region was considered laughable almost everywhere else; assuming there was nothing unusual about finding churches on two out of every four corners; and believing that any six or seven people with vocal chords could produce four-part harmony at the drop of a dime—and that all of this informs my poetry, sometimes directly and sometimes in ways that might be unpredictable or illegible.” 

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Sonia Feldman · 2529 Detroit Ave · Cleveland, OH 44113 · USA

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