Harriet Levin

You Walk in Late

to class, dressed early instead;
sharp shoulder blades buckled
up through flesh.

To have followed your walk in stiletto heels
from a room overlooking the skeletal view
of an isthmus’ oil fields
caged flames, is to hear the fricatives of your native Kwa
crack in our ears as you read: “This is how I am loved.”

A choice? You give your grandfather these words:
Not one of my children is here, there is nothing for them.
They sucked the oil until it was dry. Then they abandoned us.
Now like cocks we scratch the ground for a living.

When paws dip into bowls of cream, they leave tracks,
but hands wield instruments: spoons, bellows, shackles, drills.

Your chair scrapes against linoleum,
against the awkward silence.
Your looseleaf notebook open
on the table, paper bound
in the tightening grip of metal rings,
a grip held equally as tight
as when you string arms against bedposts
and dig spikes into flesh,
as you wait for praise.

Tongue-tied, we also wait
at the corners where you meet men
to use you, slick and rich,
an abundance of crude.

The blackboard seeks to erase
eye shadow on lids,
the flower with cat-o’-nine tails stem delicately
tattooed in the crevice between your breasts,
carried from the Delta. So close
to the heart, it blooms
releasing fragrance into stunned air.