Maurya Kerr

Saint Matthew’s Hospital, December, 2018

My husband, who loves to say the word ‘black’ as often

as he can, even when it doesn’t quite work,

greets me with I think you better go out

and come black in! I laugh.

He asks if I’ve smuggled in cigarettes.

I play along—this is our ritual, until it isn’t.

I take two manicure sticks from

my purse, pass him one. With puckered lips

we inhale and exhale, deep, lose

ourselves to when we would light up

in the dawn after fucking all night; still drunk,

so dirty so glamorous, kids really we were

so young, in love with our love.

Can you even believe it?! Us?! he would say.

He’s always refused my want to push back his cuticles,

and so they remained—high, cracked, ashy,

chafing against a body otherwise so creamy, brown.

But here, now, he allows me—what is one more discomfort?

My hair falls in my face and over his hands as I work,

swift, not wanting to tempt revocation of this task,

this gift. I trim his nails, hangnails too. Then,

first warming the cocoa butter in my own hands,

I enclose his, one at a time, softly

rubbing until his skin sates.

Be anointed I whisper. He’s fallen asleep.

It hasn’t always been easy.

But here, now, all is forgiven. Therefore,

let me kiss my husband’s palms with the kisses of my mouth.

Our favorite night nurse stops in, embraces me, lays

the back of her hand on his forehead.

Let me kiss her arms like doves with the kisses of my mouth.

We are all so blessed to love you I murmur in his ear.

His neck is dampened with the night. Oh,

let me kiss his lips with the kisses of my mouth,

breathe verdancy into the frailty of men.

He rustles, soft. So behold, my beloved,

he of beautiful cuticles, butter-balmed skin,

and blackness singing off his tongue—

arise and come away.

We

we stolen          we sorrow

 we shot as we run like deer as we run

    we root   we thrum

we drip we die  we 

    blues    we blood

we by every mean  

       we reckon the wrought 

  you wreak  

  we lay in wait  we know you 

can’t escape we all mighty  

                     we ran free  

we forced to flee

  we ain’t your boy

      we black girl 

    joy         we the poetry

we the pearl         we the patriots  

        the people,


Born in Minneapolis and raised in Seattle, Maurya Kerr is currently a writer, educator, and artist living in Oakland. Her MFA from Hollins University focused on how systemic racism denies black people access to wonderment. She has work forthcoming in Blue River Review.

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