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L. Lamar Wilson

Years: 2008, 2009, 2011




L. LAMAR WILSON, Virginia Tech MFA '10 and English PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill, is the author of SACRILEGION, the 2012 Carolina Wren Press Series selection, a bronze medal winner of the 2013 Independent Publishers Group award, and a 2013 Thom Gunn Award finalist. Wilson's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, Callaloo, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, The New Sound, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation and The 100 Best African-American Poems. Wilson, a Pushcart Prize nominee, won the Beau Boudreaux Poetry Prize in 2011 and was a 2010 and 2008 finalist for New Letters' poetry prize and a 2009 finalist for the International Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize.


Substantia Nigra


I pay a man to touch me now. In halogen he comes

to give what no other has. He bows at my bidding. He knows


where the burning leads, back to that thatched box, Florida,

one Saturday morn, not unlike the one that breached me


into song, to prayer without surcease, soundtracked by

that substantia nigra, that alluvial wealth whose terror deepens


with time welled in a phallic home of too many branches

of water & not enough swamps, home of broken


Spanish, moss, broken ballot boxes submerged

in swamps & locked in church halls, license to shoot


anything you fear or hate or fathom you own, if

you’re light enough. It’s the law of this No Man’s Land,


licked dry by an unhinged ex-lover. Some call him Sun.

I call him enemy now. Now, I like it dark. I ran across


the border to clay, said here, take & eat, dammed God

for a bald, shiny head. Repent. Repeat. Said he’ll do


till you come home. Said he hawks black art. I won’t

be a hard sell. Just need a devotional ohm for my


objectification. He’ll sit through my musings,

then surprise me with his intellect, punctuating


my sentences with his lisp. He’ll savor my run-

on monologues. His genteel tongue will glide over


my fears. I’ll swallow his sincerity. I’ll pass it on.

He touched me & made me new that Saturday morn


I could not wait for you. I pay this soothsayer now

to quiet my Cerberus, anoint my fearsome heads with oil.


I moan to silence his snarls, hum him to sleep. Ah,

this gray-scale world. Intractable. Tartarus for perpetuity. O


Florida, O Panhandle, you penal colony, you haven

of anonymous alms & arms, welcomed in pitch, home


of the men who made me wish for the womb that made me

& the ones who made me wish I had one, had the heft


to bear the weight of this needling head, this water breaking,

this grazing with the ones who gaze East daily for the first,


the man who will never be the only one, whose pining primes

our quest. I pay my medicine man, that doubting Thomas,


that one with archangel name & face, to limn what keeps us alive

& welled but not spilling, not black or white or blue enough.


These wise men say I must tell you here, again & always,

I’m sick, I’m saved by their hands. Otherwise, other men


will lock me in a steel box. A man, a white one, did once.

T’was dark in there. I escaped doing what he forebade.


Screamed I am a man, I am … I refuse his bitter pills.   Still.

O Doctor Jesus, part this endless sea of doctors, of men’s sin-


sick vision of these scars. O mirror of my mind, here, now &

forevermore, I am not pocked. These marks, not beast stings.


These broken bones are broken bones, do not portend or pretend.

Black men not mannish among black men know how to be solvent,


Sister, Sugar, Mama, Chula, Rahab, saint, wring the taint out, where

to tuck the bleach, how to cover blotches, slice edges, cinch waste


in translucent bags. I left mine on Mama & Daddy’s front porch.

The dust mites won’t touch it. The might-bes can’t. Ah,


I’ve lied. I never left you, Marianna. I am that boy, that man

in this mirror, more than enough to touch what no man can. I am


that woe man, too. I ring an other. In halogen he comes. We sing

Negro spirituals. It’s a black woe man thing. I told Jesus, be all right


if he changed my name. Too many deaths, too infinitesimal to many,

though I’ll never stop counting. Tonight, I take this ringed man.


He leaves me wanting you wanting me. Who knows the way

to Canaan? Got my ticket in my hand. I ain’t got time to die.


Originally published in The New Sound; Sacrilegion (2013)

The substantia nigra is the largest nucleus in the midbrain and is an important player in eye movement, motor planning, reward-seeking, learning, and addiction.