Photo: Willy Somma
The tongue finds the sparrow
softly nestled in the cheek;
a white call of feathers plumes
wild in each throat. Our murmurs,
pulled thin through the narrow
beak, coming to settle
inside the other.
Consider the gasp, teeth-caught,
consider this whistle through
the mind’s thick chapel,
where you found me sounding
the warmest note.
Sire the muscle
make music of your brittle animal.
I came to you hungry, and full
of dismissals. I came to you eager.
I came with mammy eye and pappy lie;
black duppy bruising you in the night
I gave you skin and bone,
I gave you teeth.
Stone after stone,
I swallowed anchor.
And nobody saved you,
white as a throat
as I washed Noah’s animals
caterwauling from the dark.
Hand by hand. And shoe.
The water a black history.
Bathed them in a deluge
of the spit, the bile, the phlegm,
the offal we called lovemaking when,
eyes shut tight, you dared not look,
hands clasped for you a body
you would not see in the dark, praying
for your order,
Well this sugarcane-blood was black
before the rambling sea learned
which names to call me
until I crumble like cornmeal pudding Hallelujah
Nobody warned you, cold as bone,
how this hair uproots antenna, red-ant stinger,
this kiss and this kiss a thick nettle.
No room on the boat for me.
No Bible passage.
No field guide to advise you to dress for fire,
to bring a thicker whip.
That what you thought was simple sparrow
was Jamaican grassquit.
Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir How to Say Babylon. She is also the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Cannibal was selected as one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year,” and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, as well as being longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Nation, Poetry, Kenyon Review, Oxford American, and elsewhere.
Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile. She evokes a home no longer accessible and a body at times uninhabitable, often mirrored by a hybrid Eve/Caliban figure.
Reproduced from Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.