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Jennifer Bartell Boykin


She is sewing a quilt 

in my dreams. Her salt 

and pepper cornrows

have the same pattern

as the pink and black flower fabric;

her hands piece them together 

with the needle and thread. 

The quilt is the length 

of the bed and she is almost

finished. All that is needed

is the tacking that binds 

the layers. She is singing gospel

songs, remixing them as she 

goes. I am at the other end 

of the quilt with a pen in 

my hand, my square of quilt

a notebook. I’m waiting 

for the words of our story,

to tell 

myself the one I am scared

to hear. 

Moonsie’s House

A man steps out shirtless on his porch,

a slice of watermelon in his hand, 

sunset rays drenched on his glistening skin.
The mirages are in the road, 

disappearing as I get closer, 

the cotton ain't high, it ain't even cotton yet, 

the flower just starting to come on the bush.
The bean fields are an ocean: 

one farmer has pole propped t-shirts  

like scarecrows in his field, so as to trick the deer, 

who wander the fields and woods at dusk for dinner.

A stop sign is in front of me and to the right 

the red sign says Do not Enter. 

I go straight… it is the way home, where 

I am not headed.


Through the small country towns with no

stop lights and a city named for a lake 

that’s gone or that maybe never existed. 

Young’s Convenience store is where I stop 

for Cajun boiled peanuts, their briny memory 

lingers in my mouth even after the Cherry Pepsi

chaser. These roads lead towards home, 

but the compass inside of me says to go 

to the spot in the woods where Moonsie’s white

house once was; the fields done took it over.

I can still see the outline of the dirt lane…


Moonsie would babysit us, my brothers

and cousins, during the summer. 

And that’s when it happened most often.

Hide and go seek and a surprise shit

and then an undressing and a dick.

My silence was a cocooned prison where

solitary confinement was constant.


Maybe this was the biggest sin

I committed against myself. 

Maybe my screams couldn’t shatter a thing 

but my own mind. Maybe if I could speak clearly

and not worry about saying words right,

if I could use these words I write as witness,

if I could tell my mama sooner than when I did,

maybe things could be different. 


And don’t tell

me how God has a plan…or how I should never

wear pants to church. All of my life I thought

that was Moonsie’s house, but she was a renter

and the White man who owned it came along

one day and told her she had to leave. 


Nothing we ever have ever truly belongs to us. 


The mudpies are in the sun, 

the drying out and crumbling to come.

I stare up at the sky at the Goodyear

Blimp and wonder where they are going, 

where they came from. The sky is

so clear and blue, the blimp is a shiny

fish flickering in the sky. 

I need to stay outside as long as possible, 

wander up the dirt lane and look down the road

Left. Right. Left. 

I know what’s coming behind me, but in front

is the wide-open road and options forever.

I look back up at the Blimp. I want to go somewhere,

anywhere where nobody knows me. 

Martha & Mary 

Mary, tell Martha to moan,

to mourn, to mend, to make.

Tell her to rip her clothes. 

Tell her to sit in ashes 

and never let anyone tell 

her how to grieve

when you mourn 

for the one you love. 

Tell her that her grief made

Jesus weep, and she was

able to see the dazzling

tears of God. 

Tell Martha that Lazarus

is getting up—Jesus done 

spoke breath back into 

his body.

Ecclesiastes 3

every thing in its place

every thing in its purpose 

every thing in its time

my birth leads to sure death

I am a plant that was plucked

broken and built up 

weeping into my hands

and laughing at the stars

my mourning becomes dancing

I gather the stones I cast away

I embrace what time has given me

I sew my tattered clothes

my silence is over

the war inside me has stilled

it’s time to speak

it’s time to heal

it’s time to heal

it’s time to heal 

Jennifer Bartell Boykin is the Poet Laureate of the City of Columbia, South Carolina, and an English educator. Her debut book of poetry, Traveling Mercy (Finishing Line Press, 2023), is published under the name Jennifer Bartell. Her poetry has also appeared in Obsidian, Callaloo, and other journals.

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