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Special Feature: Maya Marshall

Poetry, Special Features

Anatomy of a Fishhook

. . . how can I defend myself against what I want?
.—Henri Cole

I fix my mouth to gather you
as our-other-selves stand in a doorway
eyeing us; inside—here—is a flurry of embers.
My touch amuses you—
down, up; hard, quiet. “I’m close,” you whisper.
I palm your knee, stroke your throat,
and you remain whole as a mercy—
you are unequaled restraint—only the briefest flinch—
my lip slightly confused by the surfeit:
salt, water, stones, saliva, fructose.
…………Ask yourself, are you sadder here outside
your alliances, weaning me from your thigh
(Clung on in a soulless coming), fear sprinkling
poison around you (Somebody near),
than when—with a king’s ransom, a tongue,
paradise—you could hide your life, divide
it from a kitchen peopled with closed mouths,
my barb still fixed to your porous pink?

…………

Dear Father,

the stories I told myself about you as a girl have kept me soft-hearted for my own father despite his sins, despite his failures. We talk often, so I can talk to you from time to time. I can, like all your children, absolve you when you abandon one of your kids or beat a woman sworn by love and law to keep you. Or when your absence is the rule and my praise is still expected. I do know that if I broke down here just outside of Blacksburg my father would bring himself here—or show by proxy. A man I can trust. And you—no matter what story I told my mother, would get the glory. Because the story is we are all you by proxy. We are, like all roads, both a thing all our own and a thing in between.

…………

Why I Meant It When I Said I Didn’t Want Kids While You, Wanting Them and Me, Insisted I Did

I imagine spreading my bones, a baby,
then you at the birth going blind.

You pick up the baby and swing her around
in the park. You lose control of your hands:

she enters the air, and your bodies tumble.
You do your best to parachute beneath her.

I wonder what you think about our black baby
with your white mother. About your black woman

and her black child. I imagine
—because imagine is all I can do with the future—

you unable to drink, your atrophy,
and me wiping your face like an old man’s wife.

I see myself in the park with our black baby
without you.

…………

Maya Marshall is the author of All the Blood Involved in Love and Secondhand. She is cofounder of underbelly, the journal on the practical magic of poetic revision. Marshall is the 2021–2023 Poetry Fellow at Emory University. She holds fellowships from MacDowell and Cave Canem. Her writing is forthcoming or has been published in Boston Review, in Best New Poets, and elsewhere.

…………

From Special Features Editor Gary Jackson:

Maya Marshall’s poems bite with sharp interrogations of lovers and fathers both heavenly and human. Her poems keep me reading with their stunning associative leaps that turn an action on its head, only to let me rest for a moment, before propelling me forward to equal parts heartbreaking and biting moments of respite. Her images—intensely intimate and dizzying—command you to pay attention. I couldn’t stop reading these poems. And even after reading them a dozen times, I still come to them alert and eager to enter her world(s) again and again.