A Poem by Chet’la Sebree

From Her Latest Collection Field Study

June 14, 2021  By Chet’la Sebree
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I’m not good at small talk.

———

At a former colleague’s dinner party, I was
talking about life, about desire, about this and
how I’ve basically been single for five years.

This feels like an overshare—now and then.

Someone tells me this is the beginning.

———

Field research is the collection of
observational information. Approaches vary
across disciplines.

This field is my brain’s backlog of books and
a lot of bedrooms.

This field has maps made of men, of finger pads,
of scrotal sacs. My muscles a Moleskine.

Analysis: trapped between my split nails,
their skin cells.

———

Or was the beginning the basement of a church
converted into a place of poetry worship with
coffee and chocolate and another Black woman?

I thought maybe I’d start with the night I met
you—a scene that unfolded around a dining
room table.

———

I didn’t think I’d start with two men—one
white, one Black—at a dinner party.

I knew and didn’t know these men had life-altering
things happening—illness, retirement,
death in the family. These all feel more
important than this and their races, but sadly
those won’t be the stories I’m telling.

———

After you moved across the country, leaving
me in our city, a white friend asked me why
I’d dated you, a white man.

I said something about your hazel eyes and
thick brown hair.

At last suggested, it could have something to
do with the past.

———

Fetish: a sexual desire in which gratification
is linked to fixation.

———

Were white men my kink?

———

At the Bedford Reformatory for Women, same-sex
interracial relationships were referred to
as “harmful intimacies.”

———

An anthropological field study makes it easier
to breathe when my heart aches at the sight of
ambering leaves.

———

Someone asked if I was writing an auto-ethnography
in poetry.

A character study, a fiction, a script.

———

In the belly of the building, the Black woman
asked, Do you still watch Scandal?

———

When we look at the screen all we see is
ourselves . . . all you can do is comment on
whether you feel it is a good resemblance
or not . . . This is a conscious, clearly ego-directed,
activity.

—MIKE KELLEY

———

But what if you’re an infant first admiring
your reflection, reaching out to see if those
soft-fleshed hands reach back?

———

When my father tells me I’m beautiful, I cross
my eyes and curl the corner of my upper lip.

———

Let me begin by saying my father is not
perfect, that my mother may think I need to
learn this.

———

As a child, I wondered why all my white
classmates had hair that cascaded like
cartoon characters’.

———

Disappointed that @GraziaUK edited out &
smoothed my hair to fit a more Eurocentric
notion of what beautiful looks like.

—LUPITA NYONG’O

———

I fear this tweet will go the way of MySpace
and AIM, but that the sentiment will remain
the same.

———

My father hopes I’ll let people see the me he
sees before I curl my lip.

———

Twenty years since my hair has lapped the
creamy crack, my hair stays straight with more
ease after trees lose their leaves.

———

To be clear, here, I won’t bear the weight of
white legibility.

———

My great-grandmother was paper-bag-test-passing
high yellow.

My grandmother has always been particular
about pigmentation, was the first to protest
my “natural naps.”

She called out Grandson when she first met
you.

It was 2011.

We’re still stuck in the Doll Test.

———

Note: I ask a few Black friends if they consider
me light-skin.

One: [laughs hysterically]

Another: depends on who you’re asking.

———

Teach her to cook, my great-gran said to
my mom of me. She’s too pretty to be in the
kitchen, but teach her anyway
.

———

Inception: the establishment or starting point
of an institution or activity.

———

Whiteness is such the American default that
it has even colonized our imaginations.

—DAMON YOUNG

———

Perhaps I was Pecola seeking the bluest eye
in another.

———

When I was a child, none of the kissing scenes
featured men with my coloring.

The closest: Aladdin, my favorite.

———

In Inception, dreams are used to implant an
idea into someone’s subconscious.

In my dreams, white men have figured
prominently.

In my dreams, after these years, you’re still
one of them.

__________________________________

Field Study by Chet’la Sebree

Excerpted from Field Study by Chet’la Sebree. Published by FSG Originals, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on June 1 2021. Copyright © 2021 by Chet’la Sebree. All rights reserved.




Chet’la Sebree
Chet'la Sebree is the director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts at Bucknell University and the author of Mistress, winner of the 2018 New Issues Poetry Prize and nominated for an NAACP Image Award in 2019. She earned an MFA in creative writing, with a focus in poetry, from American University, and has received fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, and Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. Her poetry has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Guernica, Pleiades, and elsewhere.








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