Alysia Nicole Harris hails from Alexandria, Virginia. She received her MFA in poetry from NYU and is currently a PhD candidate in linguistics at Yale University. Alysia is the 2015 Duncanson Artist-in-Residence at the Taft Art Museum in Cincinnati. Her chapbook How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars To Stars was chosen by Finishing Line Press as the winner of their 2015 New Women’s Voices Chapbook contest. Alysia was also recently selected for publication in 2015 Best New Poets Anthology by Pulitzer-prize winner Tracy K. Smith. Pushcart nominee and winner of the 2014 & 2015 Stephen Dunn Poetry Prizes, Alysia’s poemshaveappeared in Indiana Review, Solstice Literary Magazine, Vinyl Magazine, and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.
Alysia is a founding member of the internationally known performance collective, The Strivers Row. In addition to performing at the UN, she has been featured on HBO and has toured nationally as well in Canada, South Africa, Germany, Slovakia, and the UK. She performs with an eye towards healing and sees her work as promoting transparency, a guilt-free spirituality and racial reconciliation. She currently lives in New Haven, CT.
I stole a watermelon from your kitchen. I must have been about 18.
I’m thinking of a black-eyed angel.
The other boys said you wasn’t worth your salt if you wasn’t tasting me.
I hid my virginity under my shirt. And that summer we sang
like we had azaleas bottlenecked in our throats
when we’d catch a storm from the porch, our laundry swung on the muscular thunder.
A piece of me is corroded.
Rigor or love in our small fingers— a sweet sort of choking.
The squash, the corn, all sweeter than antifreeze—I must have been about 18.
I was full of your seed, and the lavender came down like a motorcade.
That summer was the summer God told me stars used to be audible.
Does it have to be a full six octaves of guns between us?
A piece of me is corroded. Is submerged.
Stars hit high notes. Ella and everybody up there,
throwing our heads back, letting the howl bloom upright—
They told me to drown your name in the second and third chorus of Ave Maria.
Nobody told me to call the crows Sugar.
I must have been about 18.
Back pew bridge to sorrow, wailing
if you wasn’t tasting me on clean linen on newly tarred roads
if you wasn’t teasing me out on a string.
Ella and everybody up there wailing, I’m thinking of a black eyed angel,
the dope boy in the attic. Marry me! I am full of your seed.
Once I stole a watermelon from your kitchen.
You poured salt on and ate to the rind.
A piece of me is corroded. Leaves a stain
of beets between my lips sweeter than antifreeze on newly tarred roads,
the lavender came down like a motorcade in spring.
My body was a carcass. You poured salt on
and ate to the rind. But wasn’t there syrup once?
Wasn’t it sound, rigor or love? In our small hands
crickets shuck the night & leave their skin.
My body was a carcass. Ella and everybody up there wailing.
A sweet sort of choking.
I’m thinking of a black-eyed angel, the dope boy in the attic
innocent as Anne, as a wolf under the moon. Stars hit high notes.
A full six octaves of guns. Wasn’t it sound?
I hid my virginity under my shirt. A stain of beets on our laundry
after we went hunting with revolvers, kneading the dead through soil.
Sweeter than antifreeze. I am
full of your seed.
I must have been about 24.
Nobody told me to call the crows Sugar.
This summer a whale finchlike, eats from the uncoiled knot of my hand.
She got sick even though the moon is supposedly everyone’s nightlight. I thought,
Nessun dorma. My heart banged down the stairs like an anvil.
The sex in Venice tore open the curtains before dawn.
Against your abdomen, my pelvis feels like a crucible.
Say anything serious like chemo and I’ll respond with the follow up:
Why don’t we move to Egypt andbuya bunch of camels?
Why don’t we kick in the doctor’s teeth?
She looks like Pavarotti on stage sweating
under the lights. She is all in her feelings, meaning
it is for her survival. No… you definitely can’t translate
the book of Jeremiah with a mouth full of painkillers
but I’ve watched her sing. And sweat
straight through my blazer, the one borrowed
for the show she had to cut her hair like a boy’s.
While you sleep in the big Venetian bed,
I try the blazer on, unwashed months later,
sitting in the balm of her clothes:
Fire tornadoes in Brazil make blind men see. Ice on the other hand
is a small miracle. All she needs
is a small miracle.
She and I are back in Luxor, and the mangoes are holding the bruise of youth
green to their skin. You never think of the mosquitoes
present in the soil, hunting the air, skirting along the water.
You don’t think that mosquitoes will bite your feet
till you can’t walk,
so swollen and full is the fruit.
I tell you she is ill, and you hang me
over your big arms and soothe me
with geneticist words. You make me wet
when you talk about hell this way. Except the lover you are
pales next to the sex I had in Luxor, which was not sex really
but a mango opened by the machete. I asked for the pit too.
The half that was my sex, I kissed out
with juice-stung face
till I was crying and stoning myself at the same time.
I’M DRAWING A MAP WHEN I LOOK AT YOU
Love not as origin
but as exodus. A parting and then
another. Dust of your country
rolling off like sweat or my name from your tongue
in the time you loved me. That autumn
mosquitos ripened in the walls of your apartment
and made a border fence on my skin.
I became the robber whom you fed windows
fed me frame after frame: your silhouette
sleeping, silhouette cutting mangoes
silhouette with other ghosts—
Twice you were deported
before you made it to Nogales, alone and only nine
years old, saguaro shadows
pantomime. The owls flex against the sky
tiger sifts its stripes of sun and absence
making it day then night. I erase
and picture you as I always do,
more windfall than friend, more brother to me than fig.
Home como ancla, no como cadenas, rather you as a worm, hooked
in a little fishing village by the sea
away from the desert calling
the iguanas Mother, though they could give you no suck.
I imagine you back in El Salvador,
gamblingat a funeral, dice stirring up dirt.
The legs on a pair of ghost roses clipped and joined to your lapel.
You won’t die now but you’ll be disappointed you didn’t
on a mushroom trip in a car of friends,
one Muskogean morning, wheels and wheels
and not a scream will break
through your lobster grin. Don’t lie and say
you’ve been here and loved this soil.
I am unfamiliar with any other images: you on a hill
in an ocean of tall grasses. You inside Alaska
with ice like chocolate around your mouth.
You in Montana under paperweight sky, land
flat as a pulse.
You plant kisses here
but don’t weed them.
leaves raspberries in my broken skin.
hard to get, Friend, and it’s getting hard on me
not to vacate my skirt and lift my thighs in this dry bed
of burned-up rivers. My neck is breathless unfurling
lungs into a map of where you’ve been.
If immigrating is loving two women,
which one of us do you dream in?
What’s another woman to the other woman
except an extra pair of hands to bring in the harvest
but I can’t take you home.
I’m not a coyote
that way. I’m the girl you guided through the reeds
down to the loading docks. We lie on our backs
watch October get cut to pieces by helicopter.
I say, look out over the vastness and forgive it all.
In sleep last night, I pulled three boats ashore into your port. See the
rope burns, the labor
of trying to bring what you love close enough
to tie down and then ride out
again onto the waves
assuring the land animal that appears in all your poems,
this time the mule doesn’t drown.
This time I don’t keep a vigil until you return.
This time you go and make it back to everyone.
And when we dream there aren’t oil drums.
How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars To Stars (Finishing Line press, 2016)
Winner, 2015 Stephen Dunn Prize
Finalist, 2015 Pocataligo Poetry Prize
Winner, 2014 Stephen Dunn Prize
Finalist, 2014 Edwin Markham and Joy Harjo prizes
Finalist, 2013 Indiana Review Prize