American Sonnets 26

—for and after Michelle T. Clinton

kicks & jams & slams

too nice too sincere too there. but lovemonger—

without you this city is a pale rude fiction. your

womanly radiance kept all the all-knowing crowing. so

no way can i forget you though jealous dark hides you

cloaks you in a sentimental shape=changer’s sufferings. i

will not forget. you. sweetsistuh goodheart

candle-burner/ flame-keeper. gimme sommadat toast.

(my blood pressure runs low. deep hypotension)

ooohgo if you must. blow that escape hatch—rubyfruit

flee this sham world. yessum. your leavings a

dreamtrail of sweet snickerings

along this parched desert floor where deviltongues

ache for the magic rush of your angelgush


photograph by Lynell George

Q & A

—for Gil Cuadros

what do you say to the dead

when they beg your pardon after having stepped on your sore feet

their eyes reflecting an unexpected moistness

bones of hands tapping uneasily against

worm-whittled threads, rattling blackened silver

but aren’t you the one they expected? the one who

will flesh them out again?

the breath. the air. that future mentioned hastily

a few months before demise just outside

a hallway, was it? a door? yes, a theater—and

they were smiling into the champagne and so were you

what do you say when they urge you to hurry

before the paper, already yellowed, catches

mold. before their rapidly dimming shadows

become suggestions of shadow

hurry. before the sun intrudes like a brute paw

slicing through the melancholy.

what do you say to the dead when they tug at

your petulant sleeve, whisper gossip, confess marvelous

lusts, drip spittle on your freshly cleaned jacket

pull out a rotten tooth with its gold crown and lay

the treasure in your palm, extracting promise as if prayer

“soon,” is what you say when you can’t say. soon.

—from Bathwater Wine, by Wanda Coleman, 1998, Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press