2015 ‘Boston Review’ poetry contest winner: Safiya Sinclair

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Sadly, we missed this tory last December, but it’s never too late to celebrate an achievement by a Caribbean writer. Here’s the article by Cathy Park Hong for The Boston Review and a sampling of the award-winning poems. Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this to our attention.

Safiya Sinclair’s poems remind me of Wangechi Mutu’s collage paintings: they are strange, mythological, gorgeously elaborate lyric poems, with a diction that is both arcane and contemporary, that truly sounds like “songs of unknown birds.”  I love her poetry for its ominous authority and its driving cadence reminiscent of Aimé Césaire. Again and again, especially in a poem like “Portrait of Eve as the Anaconda,” Sinclair presents the woman as chimera; her heroines are part machine (“glowing engine timed to blow”), part monster (“Gorgon-slick”), and part goddess (“my wings pinned wide in parthenogenesis”). Their bodies are like the bodies of Donna Haraway’s cyborgs: regenerative, multiple, struggling for language and struggling against perfect communication. Whether these poems are supposed to stand alone or come together in some kind of gestalt, they feel epic, as she creates larger-than-life personas and fantastical post-colonial narratives of Jamaican history that read as part Tempest, part Afrofuturist utopia: “Consider the Jumbie bird clanging its deathshriek like a gong, shooting through our mapless season, unnaming the home you’re always leaving.” By compounding nouns with verbs, Sinclair collages a sensual lexicon, creating speech acts that are racialized assemblages. Her language is distinctive, assured, and a marvel to read.

—Cathy Park Hong


 

I Shall Account Myself a Happy Creaturess

Our body antipodes. Brilliant lung and ten
good bones, crochet-neck umbilical, myself the yarn.
She carries her hands      her hair around like ghosts,
my nocturne-unfamiliar, coiled interruptus
gooseflesh clouding our display case. Already twice myself
the noose.
No one has shattered that errant tooth, not even you.
The ocean sucks its salt appendage through my empty.
Already I have been a miracle, emerging
Still tending its incestuous wound.
And there goes our little world, set upon its haunches,
fraught with neglect—
Sister, we must eat.
Even the glittering oracle
of the bird-catcher spider offers nothing but the bones of bones.
Your carnivore unheaded             what stalks our puncturing
what marks        the mouth bewails its spaces, pines
                                                                 for permission
to flush or anther.

Night prowls dangerous heavy.

Exhume a neon city. Our moon gone fat
With such astounding matter.
This feast parasitic.
Five days I watch its slow work with envy              cough up
beak and penumbra. While our one mind hardens its
                                                    grief homicidal
till what inverts this lonesome dark I call thrall, luciferous.
                                                                                        Mine only.

 

Portrait of Eve as the Anaconda
I too am gathering the vulgarity
of botany, the eye and its nuclei for mischief.

Of Man, redacted I came, am coming,
fasting, starving carved

myself a selfish idol, its shell unsuitable. I, twice
discarded, arrived thornside, and soon outgrew

his reptilian sheen. A fine specimen. Let me have it.
Something inviolate; splayed in bird-lime,

legs an exposed anemone, against jailbait August,
its X-ray sky. This light a Gorgon-slick, polygamous

doom. And God again calling much too late, who
aches to stick an ache in my unmentionable.

His Primal Plant remains elusive—
Wildfire and pathogen, blood-knot of human

fleshed there in His beard. How I am hot for it.
Call me murderess, a glowing engine

timed to blow. Watch it go with unjealousy, shadow.
Let me have it. This maidenhead-primeval

schemes what ovule of cruel invention;
the Venus-trap, the menses.

And how many ways to announce this guilt: whore’s nest
of ague, supernova, wild stigmata.

Womb. I boast a vogue sacrosanctum. Engorging
shored pornographies, the cells’ unruly

strain, rogue empire multiplying for a thousand virile
thousand years; my wings pinned wide

in parthenogenesis, such miraculous display.

 

In Childhood, Certain Skies Refined My Seeing
Sunset. That blood-orange hymn
combusting the year, nautilus chamber

of youth’s obscurities, your empty room
for psalms, lost rituals. There find the bittersweetness

of one’s unknown body, heliotropic;
Welcome, stranger of myself.

Consider the Jumbie bird clanging its deathshriek
like a gong, shooting through our mapless season,

unnaming the home you’re always leaving,
scattering the names we have lost again.

The heart and its bombshell
bespeak the hurricane—

what has drowned, has drowned.
She will not return. The headless sky

unseals and aches for us, mother and sister
caught upon the steel hook of its memory.

Wet mouth of my future body, we’ve come to understand
each word, and how sometimes the words

themselves will do. Obeah-man, augured island,
I am called to remember the burning palm

and the broad refuge of the poinciana tree.
Dear Family, how willingly I pushed my feet

into the hot coals of your lamentation.
Jamaica, if I wear your lunacy like a dark skin,

or lock this day away in the voodoo-garden
of our parting, know that I still mimic your wails,

knee-deep in beach, know I am gouging the stars
for any trace of ghost. For the algorithm

of uncertain history. The simple language
of our cannibal sea. If, Grandfather,

your wandering fishermen still recast
their lives down on the disappearing shore,

know I too am scorching there.
Igniting and devouring

each abducted day.

 

 

Notes on the State of Virginia, III

After W. E. B. Du Bois
Wild irises purpling my mouth each dawning—
trauma souring the quiet street.
Its whole dark field roots me down and down. The mock-sun a blank obscuring. Fire whips
white-shock of lightning, bright Molotov angel, what ash marks assume a coon cemetery.

And all the names scratched out.
What burns this house burns apishly.
The mouth the church this immaculate body,
such untouchable sounds we have made of ourselves. A blues archeology. Thus like a snake
I writhe upward, mottling and spine-thick, where heavy nouns flay through my tubercular,

their heavens coil a twisted rope. Your veiled suffocation.
Unknown asphyxiate. The mourning dove which scales
its double gaze in tongues knows this: the broken world
was always broken.

How does it feel to be a problem? The mute centuries shatter in my ear.
The aimed black spear. This body, a crisis.
A riot. A racket. The whole world whistling.

Harass me a savage state, vast hectares will tar this noon infertile, each day a prisonhouse,
my sickbed
caulking each bloom a bruise.
Quick hands swathe me in miles of cotton. Now blood-stained sheets in my room.

There is an old woman who is not my grandmother.
There is an old sadness I was born to wear like a dress.
She feeds me condensed milk through a bird-feeder
and smiles,
says don’t pay attention to the flies in my eyes.

 

Information about the Boston Review’s annual poetry contest: http://bostonreview.net/contests

Profile of Safiya Sinclair: http://bostonreview.net/author/safiya-sinclair

Safiya Sinclair’s website: http://www.safiyasinclair.com

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