Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs published by Black Lawrence Press. A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Fine Arts Work Center, the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. She was also a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Manick serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing and is Founder of the reading series Soul Sister Revue. Her work has appeared in the 2016 Argos Books Poetry Calendar, African American Review, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, Bone Bouquet, Box of Jars, Callaloo, Clockhouse, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Human Equity Through Art (HEArt), Fjords Review, Kinfolks Quarterly, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Passages North, Pedestal Magazine, Poetry City, USA, PLUCK! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, St. Ann’s Review, Sou’wester, Spillway Magazine, The Cossack Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Weary Blues, The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry, Tidal Basin Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Mind the Gap
Little E wants a smile like mine,
teeth with a gap so wide
a corn husk and tugboat
could pull through.
Or a submarine, lost sounds
and grunts. Tiny light bulbs
if you’re careful or a string
of Christmas lights looped
through like garland.
Does she know how the world
works? How some of us
are born without 40 acres
and the weight of a mule
on their chest. Like my mother
and Monday mornings –
boarding the F train and two buses
with two children, her own negro
caravan. A sonata full of low-watt
clinics and hurling vowels
like swords. How I often waited
in those long-ass lines
and imagined myself a boy,
a whirlwind digging in the muck
where only muscles and gold matter.
My tongue tries to reason with her
ring against her want – cause
we don’t choose what haunts us.
When I was young I craved closed
spaces, bright veneers, the smile
of Rudy Huxtable or on bad days
Shirley Temple. No one notices
a mouth when Bojangles is dancing.
Revolution Staccato in B
One thousand saxophones infiltrate the city,
two by two and each with a pulse of its own.
Some have bodies big as elephant ears
and heavy-lipped missiles shoot from their pitch.
Others take the long way down.
Sopranos drop octaves along the banks,
making concave grooves settle into the click
of thigh bones and cypress knees.
They leave behind G scales in the grass,
mounds full of girls mouthing yes yes.
The altos want to turn New Orleans red
play Summertime in the streets,
have it gulp into bellies like ribs swathed
in barbeque, liberate bodies from inside out.
They all want night to end full, to riff reeds
on every corner, every concert hall,
have it settle like gold dust from clit to clavicle.
Watch them turn the city into a panama of sound,
a house of blues, until it swells like an open mouth
and babies are scatting in their sleep.
Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand
after Carrie Mae Weems Kitchen Table Series
In the right light I’m beautiful.
Covered in flour and paprika
balled cubes of meat,
you can still see patterns
fault lines in the palm center;
the first throw of jacks
and rocks when I was six,
golden frogs that bleed
and bleep so high;
a body twirl in Sunday’s best
colored swan lake
smoothed gloves in church peach;
the steam of the hot comb
the weight of it
cause nappy heads can’t hold
cherry barrettes or the sound
of light-skinned caramel boys;
you have to pull flesh
from the throat not the belly,
you are two kins away
from pulled cotton,
don’t waste any part of the pig
stir hog soup when cold comes;
the cool wash of river
on stiff limbs when death came, settled
her like a nesting doll;
all was changed with corn whiskey
out of fruit jars, and fingers
trailing the land of bodies
Christ is amazed
with taffy babies
those shriveled sweet things–
with vein-rich palms of their own.
In the kitchen I’m beautiful.
Garlic and onion shines brown
in the light, and fistfuls of mackerel
cover nails at the seams–
it tempers a woman
cause the muscle knows
how to wield a knife
and hold close salted migrations.
Blue Hallelujahs, Black Lawrence Press, 2016