Once, in the night with maybe one lamp glowing, My shirt was finally raised over my head, My brassiere unclasped, tights rolled down And underwear offed—hip, knee, ankle. Then, what would you think of my body? Had you ever negotiated such coarse hair, Seen nipples dark and darker in their tensing, Breasts swaying sideways with the weight Of them? Did you know how much it was to ask, To be the first glimpse of a naked black body? Did you know the fear of being found fearful? And later, after you’d grown accustomed, Proved yourself equal to the task of my landscape, You laughed and said, let’s play masters and slaves. I wore it lightly, said no, moved on, But it made me think about my teeth on the couch, Glowing white there in the light of the television Against my skin, made me grateful for my perfume Covering the smell of my body, made me wonder When it would be time again to get a relaxer Before my hair betrayed my best efforts To straighten it, made me alive to all the offenses Nature is prone to. When you said Let’s play masters and slaves, you thought Role play. I thought black girl.
The cold sometimes is like novocain, but we try to talk with stroke victim mouths, grotesque in scarves [End Page 126] and spit chafing our frozen chins, so it
doesn’t sound like anything that would happen these days—people these days are afraid of diseases— but what an opportunity
to warm, a little leeching, in the nighttime. To fuck outside is hitting your head on a street sign like a blessing and then bleeding
a lot—but who doesn’t lick a paper cut? There are no rules for street sign cuts but the principal
is obvious: if your own mouth won’t reach, get high. Get drank up.
Wane and Wax
When bosoms fill with milk they swell up taut like the skin on a sausage, get transparent like a dumpling, and veiny like a fish’s flat, white belly. Sun rays of sweet white stretch marks reach across the periphery of each breast, fading toward that most important center, the tiny maelstrom of the nipple, glazed by turns with sweat or spit or milk—bosoms swell less specially too, swaying heavily like the pails of water on either end of a shoulder thrown stick, prickling painfully like an inverse blowfish, waiting for the poison press of a brassiere, the steak knife slice of wanting teeth—feel the saliva rush from glands—the tidal slide of bathwater. The gut holds its water too, the fleshy bulge of elasticked wool coverings: it is so uncomfortable being a woman—at the end of a full meal and a long month the last thing welcome inside is something that is meant to be wanted—there is only digestion, expulsion, only her, only next things, again and again. [End Page 127]
Book of Common Prayer
Now that is why God is such a consolation: at church after my first time, I got on my knees and said thank you, which between me and God was enough.
If it were enough just to paint, some kind of physical art, like Amin, or Saville or Schiele—
if I could just annotate pictures of my body I think it would make more sense— close-up photos of my vulva and upper set of teeth where the metal filling is, and my hair where the treatment has grown out. That would all make more sense, for everybody. [End Page 128]
Caroline Randall Williams is a poet and writer. For two years, she taught with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. A graduate of Harvard University, she is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Mississippi.