In my portrait studio, I place each soldier’s head between a metal vise
to keep him still. But things move too fast in the field.
I photograph what remains after the fighting’s done: not smoke
but the cold cannon, the burnt- out mill, the singed hills. Branches
curling inward like a man’s nails grown wild. I wish I had the speed
& color to capture the ceasefire, when soldiers
on both sides go blackberrying. The chaos of their arms
plunging into the gaps, skin brambling to a blackish-red,
mouths bursting from juice & thorns. How they hurt for what sustains them.
after Romare Bearden's The Block
Footsteps pause & pace overhead: lunga, andante, while something simmers in someone else's kitchen—an aroma of split onion with crushed garlic cackling in lard. Sound & scent are trade winds
you catch in your mind. Soon you arrive at the stove in North Carolina where your great-grandmother is laughing at a story back before
it became your grandfather's, then your mother's, repeated like rows of seed in loam. You're as much cecil, knotted with red clay & sweet potato root, as you are these paved
asphalt streets. From your friend's Harlem balcony, cars above & below the broken yellow line push forward, as if cursive letters on penmanship paper
where you first learned to sign your name. Where you let it fill the whole page. On your studio table one paper sun rises
over a sea voyage two kids watch on TV—their backs to the window through which the other sun warms rooftops up & down the block. Both skies
are the lime-tinged indigo of Southern doorframes that neither flies nor haints are said to cross. Both suns' edges are cut smooth, their texture
crinkled like bed sheets or sheet music or your wife's eyes when she laughs to herself. Outside: the moon
-- Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren is an MFA candidate in Poetry and Literary Translation at Columbia University and the Dispatches editor for Words Without Borders. Her honors include an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Hopwood Award, and a 2013-2014 Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil; she was also a finalist for this year’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. You can find her work in literary journals including Narrative, Guernica, The Common, Two Lines, and BOMB.