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 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
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
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.