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Brionne Janae


~for Momo

one of those days water calls to the young

pulls them by their toes to banks

where the river slows and the sun

dives below and the bed

rises to meet their clumsy feet

to let them pass gently splash

and drag each other under.

malleable as mud my sister

was always willing to give.

to be shoved down so I could thrust

my head above the water like a gator

snapping at a passing gull.

we spent the day baking

raisins turning—dark wrinkled things—

I insisted on casting a line at sunset

though she begged to go home

before daddy had time to worry

and slide his belt from the loops.

we got what she feared. daddy lashing

culling welts like a cross roads preacher

gathers souls. I always ran

twisted swung back but she just stood

crying. after when daddy had settled

down to eat our fish and I sat pushing

heads round my plate she said start with the eyes

and be careful of biting the skull.


to the knuckles my fingers

dipping in. mouth. the need

to get this bitter from my tongue

bury it in sweetness. even as a girl

I could taste momma’s ache like soot

in the air. how I remember fear.

how she could holler my name

like it wasn’t hers. like it was pus

filled in her cheek and bursting open

like something daddy’d found

at the crown of some gal’s blues slung legs.

I never tarried long then.

to find her sitting on the back porch

thighs spread west, taking the sun

like it wouldn’t shine no more tomorrow.

dust. my feet covered in it. standing there.

smiling. as if seeing me could please her.

no. nothing.

just that hacking cough and pinning

me between her knees, to pull loose

my hair, yank week old naps

from dirty edges, and arc her fingers

to scratch the dandruffs free from my skull.

all around me hair would fall.

then kneeling before the pail,

fear of never being clean,

of water, of soap forced to lather.

but by the fire side

she’d put on a mother’s hands

and sing a song she thinks her momma sang once.

and lay my head, wet in her lap, and braid

tight my clean hair, now and then stopping

to stroke my small face, or lean down

and kiss me softly on the brow.


Brionne Janae is a California native, teaching artist, and poet who has left Boston where she completed an MFA at Emerson College. Brionne could be anywhere this time next year—Seattle, Jupiter, NYC. A recipient of the 2016 St. Botoloph Emering Artist award, Brionne is also a proud Cave Canem Fellow. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, jubilat, Sixth Finch, Plume, Bayou Magazine, The Nashville Review, and Waxwing among others. Brionne’s first manuscript After Jubilee will be published by Boaat Press in the Winter of 2017.

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