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.
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.