The poems of francine j. harris explore the spacing of the black female body. In doing so, they fundamentally reinvent and disrupt normative syntax word by word, line break by line break, until the staid movements of a reader’s eye surrender to language as fluidity. harris’s visual kinesis can be so intensely acrobatic and explosive, reading her makes me rethink just how and why for thousands of years we have linked poetry to the body. And yet I doubt her poems’ daring spacing can simply be performed in audible or composed fashion, whether for her or our breathing of these absolute texts. I marvel at how she intimates the eerie proximity of eros and violence, sensuality and trauma, anticipation and memory; perhaps a formulation only poetry can make into a shared experience so searingly convincing. Behold the awesome precipice of her abrupt breaks, where words and phrases sever, where lines are literally spaced open like the mouths, thighs and earth she obsessively describes. And yet none of this writing in its radical originality feels to me merely descriptive or recounted. To read her, I believe, we have to allow these brave poems to be, as Audre Lorde implies, felt firsthand. Poetry, now, as liberated body.
—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor
I carried a clit, in case.
in case it wasn’t rape.
in case the kiss was your lovely. in case, you suck a sore
bruise, too. in case you were steady. your hand was steady.
in case you could talk. I carried a clit, and a wrist in case –
in case I could rub away seam, and you could rinse hem, and we could
stand upright in tubs, muddy like ledge. in case you could
hear. me, in case I could pick up both feet
on command, and carry through beds, and
keep my hair out of houses, in
and out of houses. in case the rooms full of
leaves and nightstands where
the drink is sweet. and a schoolyard out the
window, and in case the flagpoles
were empty. in case I could hear
sheets flap, like
a punch in the thigh.
One punches thigh open, another
writes script. pens
white gown and white banner and white sheet and white
cover and dove. and white birch, and parchment, and white
cinder and slab brick. white ash of punched cunt, white follicles
and we were not winter. all dark and thick and full of mouth.
We were not wonder. all dark and thick. our mouths
got us kicked. you ask a princ-
iple, a counselor, the man in the room. our mouths
got us running, soup water from se-
wers, and gentler weather keeps chicks, our mouths
got us full to black rim. to red blather, to-
ward trouble, a generous flight of stairs, our mouths
got us hissed ridiculous, you ask a sham-
an, his snake of women, his clavicle stick, our mouths
got us our bitter ass whipped, pick our own-
ers, our switches, our licks, our shut up. our shut up. our shut up.
where everyone cums fast because they want to go home. The camera man’s
stomach is growling and he has the hiccups. The gist of today’s shoot is
girl-on-girl in sequins thong with stone edged stream full of guppies. all
different colors. Some guppies have fins. Some of them look stoned.
or maybe it’s boy-on-girl with sequins collars and graffiti ties. sequins anal beads. sequins
lipstick. This shot will involve a small waterfall. the sound of rushing water. There is
the pan out from a helicopter. Some of the grips help drop buckets of fish food.
or, maybe it’s boy-on-boy and all the boys have beards. not cubs or bears or hotbods. but
bloated pot bellies snacked on Pepperidge farm goldfish which make them burp on retakes.
or maybe girl-on-boy, but then he washes her feet in the stream.
The director throws down his shotglass. It breaks. When the fuck
did everyone fall in love, he says. Fortunately, there’s no glass in the stream. There are minnows
under the bottom boy’s earlobes. The girl with the whip in a cupless bra
is brushing his wet chest hair, before it dries to a knot.
The erotic cannot be felt secondhand
widens the violet field between grinning street and woodpile
and steer clear. There is too much blank backdrop
under plane wings and unhitched semi cab junk. In the habit of traversable space
fenced-in blocks layer hard ground and stick. There is no shift. no
black earth to sprout vines. The wire-backed grasses
do little platelet. Whatever can grow, weeds soft. no yellow sprig. Each
trunk fits like base in abandoned palette.
How do boys ruin. How do they sway out in the stump rot, cinder block garden.
They are picking apart the full bloom of gray petal
planted since the longest day, the birth of steel.
It isn’t his fault
is it, the brown bag stuffed in him everywhere, his hair
a decibel of rail and tie, since the fullest crib, snatched engine
from the swirl of blue steam rising, neck-bottled
strewn to the rocks. I’ve said this before.
The switch renders that figure, and so I woman in it
get down on my belly and snake the ballast, like
the shingle of a train whistle. A slow rattle lull, the weight
of crossing guard bells clanging in grave, slower
once the leg I slog, falls from beat.
Now it hunkers horizon in flints. Tell them
it’s the rest of this life.
I pick the channel and change it until I can find two men stuffing both dicks into one vagina
who would eat off that plate. Which of them would lick
his mouth of dinner parsley. Which would suck the rain from cleat
which would fill each other’s arms with all the testicles, all the prominence
with their inverted trapezoid hip. Couldn’t we reframe and take each other by waist
like heavy books, spines swapped. Each boy hefted, falling to either side.
The train stays solid as the lights swing across belly and slice
air. The back of spine cools the black gravel. I am curved
like the switch. The scissor crossing each frog at night, hard
along a knobbed fence. Each hour is first like splinter, then burnt. Then
a hundred hands I take at the low gate.
I pore over each scalp and neck, licking for coal.
All of them move.
the bulkhead is rattling gold container. the piggyback
hunting ass in the air. If I were a man calling at the edge of a gondola
I would latch on. each tempo a knuckler. each tint
a container, each coupler. Who in our overheating did the boys want
against the livestock slats.
All this talk of hinge
the hump inherent. A slow bell moves through gantry
each time the gate arm lifts.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface
The stone would \sink
the heel, \ the stomach, sink
/the throat split
barnacle, buoy weight/\by
fill the pores and weighted tongue
pulley a salt mine. Eyes suck
and sponge/pull at the suds off backs of
sea turtles and crabs vacuum, and lower
tangle squid/and lower
into slime stars, — shorn
in the shred of anglerfish/lower, creviced
shoulder to viperfish, and leaked into __seepage
at the bloodtouch_of_____tubeworm.
Divers try this.
flight, in the flailing arms, will overshadow the
swallowed light. In the last,
meets nothing at all. not
the blowfish. not the eels. certainly
not the jellyfish, whose rude lash and sting
is still no match.
Feature image: Daonne by Deana Lawson, 2012.