DAWN PRAYER CALL
on the line with my dying mother
i choose words that land soft
as fingers in the sweet of her scalp.
sometime ago I became her patron saint
of hope and faith a calm weft of voice
her voice thick with East New York
then mine then hers again
we call and respond
our voices moving like smoke
between open mouths.
i was not holy before
i have never been a light to anyone
especially not my mother – pretty brown woman
whose body contained mine, gave me my sheen,
my breath of champale and bacon fat,
my taste for malt and sugared donuts,
my love of a well-painted face and clean brows.
I have been the worm inching through soil
not the butterfly
we are women bad things happen to.
we knot our headscarves and angle our knees
around thoughts of miracles
that will not happen.
the things we desire burn us,
crown our heads with scorn.
What I want is time to resurrect
all the days I have buried
to crawl back from the old woman
already keeping company inside me.
we pray over the line my eyes
are wide open
I lay across an unmade bed
dawn light through the window
segmenting my flesh.
this is our audacity –
to pray for a stunning exit,
for the brittle body to rearrange itself
like a floor-length skirt
OPENING NIGHT OF THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS DISPLAY AT SPANAWAY PARK
Daughter, so begins the story of you,
a warm robin strapped to your daddy’s chest,
cheek flush to the thrum of his body’s grandest organ.
He shields you from the elements within
his favored coat, a gift from the long-dead
grandfather you will never know.
We are treading through this gluttony of rain,
thighs pistoning forward with the insistence
of those starved for hope.
We roam the park like ants foraging peace.
We squint away water to glare into the jolly lights.
Hundreds of us trudge neck to neck –
a thick army of parents with yawping babes strung to our
torsos like fish come out the water.
We have come to see the miracle of incandescence –
a billion wet balls of light interrupting
the dark, the carnival smell thick as meat
reminding us of our own childhoods, made precious
by the disappointment of time.
You sleep through 2 miles of LED and copper wire.
Through the legion of rain-slick bodies and baby shrieks.
Through your parents breaking rank every 30 feet
to unhook the hood from your head
and check for your slippery breath.
You sleep through these panicked days
of raising you when I trust nothing
but the sight of my hand ascending and descending
atop your insistent chest,
when I startle myself free of sleep
to stare at your life shimmering
in the glow of a nightlight.
Here is the version of your life
with the mother strong as jubilation
who understands that nothing she fears is new.
Here is the version with the mother
who counts ancestors amongst her allies,
who stiches hope with a steady hand
through the promise of her known blood.
Each version breakable as bone
and easier to crush.
Back and forth each night we volley –
is she breathing?
and by that we mean,
is the miracle present,
For what is the question but a prayer
for your sighing breath to find fierce refuge
in the breast of this woman who has never
What is a miracle but your mouth
flung open to greet the wind,
tongue poking free to find
the taste of booming rain.
Winner of the 2013 Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize, Idrissa has been a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Award and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in poetry. Her work has most recently appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, James Franco Review, Fourteen Hills Press, and Room Magazine. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Hedgebrook, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Poets House, and VONA/Voices.