Interior Image

Rachel Nelson

Years: 2014


Rachel Nelson is a Cave Canem graduate fellow who received her MFA from University of Michigan. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlas Review, Callaloo, Hartskill Review, Little Patuxent Review, Muzzle Magazine, pluck!, Smartish Pace, and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (Un. Georgia  Press, 2007). She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she's facilitated a number of workshops in Michigan prisons.




You want to be the sort of woman

who steps out of her boots

and slides her leg into the dark water without stutter.


You want your own beauty

boxed and delivered,

a thing you have to hold to believe.


The bodies of women

unfold from behind their shirts,

clothes nodding over the limbs of trees.


You want to lean into the lake of melted snow,

its dark surface marbled rosy.


You think this is beauty: to glide

when the ground is sharp

with stones.


Here is April cracked open for you:

The shivering and shrieking women call,

voices like beautiful fishing line unspooling.


You tell me you’re plainly yourself,

no artifice or costume, as you slide

your glasses into the sole of a shoe.


How could you use anything more

as a disguise? Not unfolded yet, you

want to be made of feathers,

like a duck, dark and slick.



Published by Little Patuxent Review


The Crowd


After Kara Walker’s Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tweenthe Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (1994)


Mothers, when you crowd together

I cannot hear you – you sound like waves.


Mothers, I have blood and water too.

I lift like rain misting off the road.


One mother says the water gathers at her thighs,

its fists bunched, and tells her who it eats


and who she’s eaten. There is no difference

between dry land and water but the story.


Mothers, there are so many of you

to enter the room of the body.


Who roots a man’s head to the ground

with her own head? Who gathers the flock


of her legs to lift herself up to a kiss?

Mothers, don’t leave me


in the grasses. My feet grow other feet.

My tongue cannot do what they ask.


One mother is rounded, a hulk, unhatched,

lifting another with thready arms.


One mother’s skin keeps the gray of the ocean inside.

Mothers, your feet will open


with so many stories – there are more shells

on the bottom in some places than others.


Each hilltop is an island.

Mothers, you will have to find a way


even if you don’t want to fly.

Which one of you reached the tree,


arm draped in moss and clothing?

Mothers, they’ll lift us and our brooms too


so they cannot see our feet on the ground.

They’ll bite us to taste the salt.



Published by pinwheel




After Kara Walker’s Freedom: A fable (1997)


Perhaps she would begin with the sea

(where did it go?), or the sweet

dim reprieve from the sun, or the rain

she cannot seem to move from beneath.


Or perhaps she would not want to say.

Her breast bare, she is instead

protecting her teeth: lips set,

the words moving below them like bees in a hive.


One hand is still waiting for the seed

of the other hand to stem.

Her body has not yet grown the boat.


When I close the book

her heel will lift and the shade tree

will close in quick winter.

The spine will just avoid breaking her in half.


Here is the fable:

the leg that stopped running

shades her face from the sun.

It has found no other escape but bark.


On the land she has built for her herself

she is safest in full sight. Blooming

everything usable from her own body.

The flower in the hand she has left is for us.



Published by Huizache