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Poetic License
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Nude Study

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
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.

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.

Caroline Randall Williams  

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.

Copyright © 2013 State University of New York Press
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Caroline Randall Williams. "Poetic License." Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International 2.1 (2013): 126-128. Project MUSE. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Williams, C. R.(2013). Poetic License. Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International...

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