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,
myself the one I am scared
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
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.