Two Poems

by Ana-Maurine Lara

Diary of Two Black Girls in the Dark

                                    ~ in tribute to Michelle Cliff

From within a deep silence
Taking note of what has been lost
Born from volcanoes cooled
I am the fragments, the fragments whole
Shadows beneath waters
Our breath creates a new geography

In you, a geography
of stolen lands. You are quiet
In the dark. I drink tears
From your cheeks, your mind adrift
Your heart lost in a hole –
a cave, lonely and frigid.

The night is cool,
I study the geography
Of the shore, the whole
An uncertain silence
I fear getting lost
In those deep waters.

When our ancestors crossed the ocean
On ships, the winds biting
At their exposed flesh, their homelands lost
in time and space, a curious geography
this open water, this speckled silence
They, we, still believed we could be whole.

Come back to me; I promise you with my whole
Heart to bless you with rivers
Of sweetness, to quiet
The noise that bites
At your heart, the sacred geography
Of your spirit, misplaced – disappeared.

When we were lost
After they took what made us whole
After we entered this geography
Of terror and bloody water,
Only your hand, cool
Against my skin brought peace.

The geography of these waters
Is a wholeness, cooled
By the lost who guard their silence.

~ Ana-Maurine Lara, October 3, 2016


“Gazing Across Time at Myself”[i]

~ for Michelle Cliff, after her passing

From whence I was born, words stolen from deep silence
What has been hidden, what has been lost
Born out of the sea, islands formed by volcanoes cooled[ii]
I am the fragments, the fragments whole
Shadows dance beneath the waters
With me the tongue becomes a new geography

One was a dark-skinned woman, dark from somewhere else
One was a light-skinned woman, her origin unimaginable ubiquitous specific disguised
Two Erzulies meet along the shoreline: one on her way to market
The other bleeding and sore
Notes scratched against flesh Here Was an Englishman
Here were the Harmattan winds and mangos
Stories hidden in the shadows of the body: a damaged liver a broken heart
Each story a beat within our songs

Blue thick as swollen bruises under mahogany skin
Viscous red like jam, like bloated cherries
Lost ancestors wander onto the moor of a hollowed belly
The grief of women a potash of bones and blood
Blackbirds chanting over their dead (crows do not forget a human face)
“the decomposing griefstricken”[iii] are reborn
After flesh and amniotic fluid the universe contained indigo light
and a soft peach glow that pulses from beyond the horizon

A moor named liberty?
Sleep produces monsters beasts children
Torn from the flesh of earth
Bathed in the salty placenta of the Atlantic
Born again in the lilting shadows of ackee breadfruit plums
The glade glistens pink with flowers

The loss of country is a great loss
The girl who would become a woman held within herself all of who she was all the seeds of lovers awaiting form all the places her blood had been all the waters she and all the women within her had tasted
And yet she was unable to recall
The sites of memory all but scrubbed clean
The pink water, red stripes
A curious topography

The coldness of stone
Her face a shimmer of memory within its blackness
Here inscribed is the metaphor for what was once a person
A place of origin, a language, an imagination
Once spoken into being
She cannot be retracted

What has been hidden
what has been lost
working with the fragments
the lost and buried whole
To love the darkness and the life within it
the pelting rain
the owl’s rapacious appetite
the scratching of leaves
the frog’s moan
a dense foliage of silent movement
north or
to the sea or to the river or to the caves
our skin holds no light in the dark
our hearts hold darkness close
a breath of freedom
a respite from the saltiness of the sun
a fresh breeze through the cane leaf

~Ana Maurine Lara, October 4, 2016[v]

[i] From Cliff’s “Sites of Memory” in If I Could Write This in Fire, p. 63

[ii] Reference to Cliff’s “the sea is my home, as are the volcanoes that create the islands, erupting from the sea” (If I Could Write This in Fire, p 87)

[iii] From Cliff’s Into the Interior, p 51

[iv] This stanza makes reference to Cliff’s declaration: “I am not a metaphor. My place of origin is not a metaphor. I inhabit my language, my imagination, more and more completely. It becomes me. I do not exist as a text. I am spoken into being…”(If I Could Write This in Fire, p 58)

[v] I write this poem while in the Dominican Republic, in the days leading up to Hurricane Matthew’s approach to the shores of Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba. The winds pound at the windows of my home. The waters flood the street. I am working on my laptop’s battery power. The Anglo-, Franco-, Hispano-phone Caribbean – we all can understand the language of water and wind. We practice the bodily gestures of storing candles, water, moving to higher ground, praying to our gods. The greatness of nature’s force overpowers us, makes of our flesh the silt of the Caribbean sea floor. I cannot but think of how these islands are built from our bodies. In one way or another, we are the islands. We are the water. The islands and waters are we. The winds gather up our ancestors from the Sea floor. New ancestors are taken. Michelle Cliff reminds me of this, constantly: that to embrace the heart of darkness is to dive into the tombs of our collective memory, even and especially when that tomb surrounds us with her gales. We gaze across time at ourselves.

Ana-Maurine Lara is currently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. Her areas of interest include Afro Latino/a identities, black queer aesthetics, Vudú in the Dominican Republic, and Afro-Dominicanidad and the struggle against xenophobia in the Dominican Republic. Also an award-winning novelist and poet, Dr. Lara spent 10 years as a writer and performance artist before deciding to pursue a Ph.D. in African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University. Her short stories and poems have been published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. In addition, she has written and performed many plays and performance art pieces, most recently Landlines (2015), a performance project based in Eugene, Oregon, and The Hope Chorus (2015), a performance piece for which the MRG Foundation selected her as their 2015 Lilla Jewel Artist and which took place at the Justice Within Reach symposium at the Portland Art Museum.