Remica Bingham-Risher earned an MFA from Bennington College and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets. Her first book, Conversion (Lotus, 2006), won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. Her second book, What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan, 2013), was shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is the Director of Writing and Faculty Development at Old Dominion University and resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children. She is currently finalizing a book of interviews and essays with African-American poets. For more information on her work and upcoming events, please visit: www.remicalbingham.com.
Each time I enter Autumn Care Nursing Home
residents line the glistening beige tile.
I walk past the nurses’ station—three, on duty, sitting
behind the glass. None moving to see why Mr. Trueblood is screaming
Help me, please, help me. He has dropped an orange.
His mouth twists small and silent when I put it in his hands.
My grandmother is usually sleeping, eyes dimmed to a slit,
T.V. blaring, arms dangling, hands limp.
I touch her shoulder and she wakes giving orders—Get my shoes;
brush my teeth; take out my bible, leave it in my reach.
I move around her half of the square room
until she can think of just one other task,
the only order she doesn’t give aloud—
her head nodding backwards, her eyes on my hands.
I slide behind her wheelchair and draw the curtain separating her
from Ms. Williams who suffers with dementia and yells
Oh, I know what you’re doing as we disappear.
I remove my grandmother’s blouse, unfasten her bra and slide
my nails from the nape of her neck down to her buttocks
until white lines, like lightning, cover her skin.
She is silent. This tells me I am finally doing something useful.
I warm lotion with my palms and lather it onto her back until she says
what I came to hear—That feels some kinda good—her gratitude:
measured and easy. My acceptance: each day’s return.
From Conversion (Lotus Press, 2007)
Kuperberg, South Side Street Photo
The little boy in Anna’s photo
shines like the little boy
we’ve been searching for,
found last night in the last place
we wanted him: the backseat
of the white truck, shell
casings littering the floor.
In the photo, he is watching
for someone outside the shot,
his mouth full with sugary sweet
eaten whole, only the stick
poking through pursed lips.
His eyes are wide.
In the truck, the boy’s eyes
are perpetually wide.
The children, in the photo, are perched
on a stoop, not far
from the stoop where the boy
in the truck used to play tag and hunt,
chase girls with unraveling
plaits, like the girl behind the boy
in the photo. The boy
in the truck could have been
the boy taken in a flash.
But time is only still here,
in the photo, no one captures
the uncertain space
behind the waiting door.
From What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan Press, 2013)
Science says we are not autonomous, we carry each other
in our bowels and bellies, in our brains.
Cells, microscopic parts of us passed through
birthing or breast milk, stay with our mothers,
their mothers; vespers that prove
we do not work of our own accord.
The miracle is: inside, we only give,
not like the taking that persists outside ourselves.
Foreign cells flurry to an injured heart
repairing it before ruin,
staying for years, tens of years, tens of thousands
if we kept on living as intended.
What I take from this is what we are reluctant to bear:
the whole world is nothing but a valley
and in that valley there are mountains made of trees
and trees made of grass and stars that fall into
the underbelly of everything beginning again.
How can all this be mistaken?
Who can imagine we are not made?
We save our memories and talents,
gristle and muscle and bone—
all of what we are—rescued and re-born.
In the womb there is the drum of the heart
beating, speaking to another small drum
and the music is a valley we are all coming to
conduits, chimeras, too vast to be named.
From Starlight and Error
What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan, 2013)
Conversion (Lotus, 2007)
Winner, 2006 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize for Conversion