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Elliott, Chiyuma

Elliott, Chiyuma

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Chiyuma Elliott is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A former Stegner Fellow, Chiyuma’s poems have appeared in the African American Review, Callaloo, the Notre Dame Review, the PN Review, and other journals. She has received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. She is currently at work on a poem cycle called Vigil.

Second Life

Words are tricky as paper.
Fast as your hands can move, they can fold
into a crane or a frog, a hat or a fish.
Even though you only ask me simple questions,
the way you lean against the doorframe
and ask: did I buy milk at the store,
why am I still awake at four a.m.?
My thoughts pickle.

Because I’ve stayed up all night.
Because I’ve looked deep into the monitor’s heart
and found unending strings of ones and zeros.
Look—I’ve made us a mansion and a virtual dog.
And I’ve found you, and clothed you
in the bright colors you used to wear. Look here—

you’re turning a page, I’m cutting the grass.
Originally appeared in California Winter League (2015). Reprinted courtesy of Unicorn Press.


Fruit Tree

If we are at war let the orchards show it,
let the pear and fig fall prior to their time,
let the radios die
–Katie Ford, “Our Long War”

and let there be an ominous quiet—
wide, frozen rivers—
let’s walk across inadvisably,
wearing the wrong shoes.
Let spring come. Let the rivers thaw,
let the silt swirl just a little
as we wade in again;
let there be a spell for this
that looks like gingham.
My friend married into a family
with acres and acres of almonds,
she’s happiest when they blossom,
before the days get too hot.
Her beloved can also drive a tractor,
but here’s the difference: futility.
Let there be a spell to make everything
seem miniature and discordant;
no, that would be redundant.
Let there be a deep pit. Let there be one light
at the top, a tiny circlet of sky,
and handholds, footholds.
Let there be also a surfeit of kindness.
The thin daytime moon shivering from kindness,
the air spangled, the streets littered with it.
Let there be monuments to each and every kindness
as the grain ran out, and after, when Stalin said
the peasants were starving themselves
to bring down the state. Dear one,
let me remember you and them simultaneously,
and say amen and wonder at this pile of hours.


Cloud Control

Wherefrom fall all architectures
I am Queen Under The Hill
Where the mind disturbs the sun by making roses
Wherefrom all architectures fall
Where forms fall, and fields fold
I am the First Beloved
Wherefrom all architectures fall
I am Queen Under The Hill
I am Queen of all architectures.
Sometimes, I permit you to return.
Note: “Cloud Control” was inspired by a sculpture of the same name by Matthew Szösz. It is also a found poem—from Robert Duncan’s “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow”—and was first published in Dear Sir.

California Winter League (Unicorn Press, 2015)