The Kingdom Belongs to a Child

by Cashavelly Morrison

Long-Haired Mare

When my daughter was barely sixteen, 

I began to wonder of all she’d seen.

Before the sun rose on an icy morn’,

I woke to the screams of my darlin’ first born.

 

With my dagger in hand, I threw open the door,

saw a man had taken her to the floor.

 

Promise never tend my grave.

Take the long-haired mare and go far, far away.

 

The man had the eyes of my love.

My husband, my one who’d stolen enough.

A red sun rose on the love I’d divest.

I pushed the dagger through his chest.

 

Promise never tend my grave.

Take the long-haired mare and go far, far away.

 

My daughter wailed, “I’m among the damned.”

“No, no, girl. I’ve untied your hands.”

I held a long white thread

pulled from the lily laced on her bed.

 

Promise never tend my grave.

Take the long-haired mare and go far, far away.

 

By sundown, I stood alone

in a sunken cell of ashen stone.

Before the gallows, I wept myself clean

for my only daughter had been set free.

 

Promise never tend my grave.

Take the long-haired mare and go far, far away.

 

Emory

In our yard, we made a pyre.

Stacked wood, threw in the books,

burning lines of evil and good.

 

Went in the house to get our baby.

She ran; it was a game.

Promised candy and to us she came.

 

We held her back, threw in the cradle.

She asked to play with her teddy bear.

“Not now, you’re too sick and frail.”

 

“It’s not that we don’t love you, baby.

Doctor says we have no choice.”

It seems God is tossing a coin.

 

We stared, the fire rocked her,

holding pails of kerosene, oil.

The smell was milk gone sour

the day we turned her back to soil.

 

Made of Sand

I can’t say it.

The sun’s setting scarlet.

You’ll find I’m made of sand,

a sparrow in your hand.

Don’t go away tonight.

 

My dress is dirty.

My lips are cracking.

I watch you from the street,

a feline in heat.

Don’t go away tonight.

 

Wait for me,

tonight.

 

I have tin wings

in this icy rain.

You are a shelter,

a coal shed discovered.

Don’t go away tonight.

 

I made you thin twine

from the wet white pine.

Pull me through your door.

Hear lily-white roars.

Don’t go away tonight.

 

Wait for me,

tonight.

 

Iodine

My son, he cannot hear me.

In the end, I’ll speak his last words,

soak my baby’s shirt in lye,

and mend his injuries with thread and iodine.

 

My baby boy had brown eyes.

In daylight, he cried.

I ran, I ran, I ran

to kneel at his side.

My son, he cannot hear me.

In the end, I’ll speak his last words,

soak my baby’s shirt in lye,

and mend his injuries with thread and iodine.

 

The day turns into midnight

as more sons fall to genocide.

I hold, I hold, I hold

black blooms all my life.

 

A mother’s voice is the ocean’s tide

and can drown out your armies riled.

I stand, I stand, I stand

and will survive.

My son, he cannot hear me.

In the end, I’ll speak his last words,

soak my baby’s shirt in lye,

and mend his injuries with thread and iodine.

 

Jesus Dies Every Time

Bullet in the grass—she pulled it loose

from its descent to the middle of the earth.

She buries it in her ancestral wound

given her the right of her birth.

 

She gives the bullet to her father and mother,

who refuse to hold what is not their own.

Confined at home, blood-letting her body.

A crimson pail as all she owns.

 

Jesus dies every time.

Still she cuts off her hands.

Her teeth tearing graves

of new land.

 

When her lover falls to the floor,

she puts the bullet ‘tween his broken teeth.

He vows carry it an eternity.

Her howls replace all for which he speaks.

Jesus dies every time.

Still she cuts off her hands.

Her teeth tearing graves

of new land.

 

Amputation will not save her

from the bullet, the sum of her worth.

She suffers a coward’s burden

on her descent to the middle of the earth.

 

Jesus dies every time.

Still she cuts off her hands.

Her teeth tearing graves

of new land.

Breakwater

This water can smother no fire

 

Miscarried

Hemopheliac

Cutthroat

Ruby Waters

 

Steel is the mirror of regret.

Face dripping down your shoulder,

following you across the room

on a Sunday after he turned cold

and the sea was full of black gold.

 

This water can smother no fire

 

Miscarried

Hemopheliac

Cutthroat

Ruby Waters

 

Breakwater’s Red Tongue

 

Ships sinking down my throat and yours.

A leak was sprung in each of ink.

What had no voice was never said.

I was alone after he turned cold

and the sea was full of black gold.

 

Breakwater’s Red Tongue

The ocean

 

Pink Dress

I have scratches on my legs

from the briars on the trail

where the weeds were overgrown and waist-high

and I could tell no one had been there in awhile.

 

I’d been there once before

with my first lover

where we made a bed of thorns

and I’ve been finding them since we’ve been over.

 

Wear your pink dress.

Clean up your mess.

 

From the ridge, I couldn’t see the river

without a slide of my foot down the ledge

and I caught myself down on the ground

and that’s where I found wide-eyed Connie under the hedge.

 

Wear your pink dress.

Clean up your mess.

 

Connie doesn’t look like herself any longer.

Eyelet dress and a daisy by her ear,

posed in a casket, going lower and lower

and her mommy cursing the Holy Father.

 

Wear your pink dress.

Clean up your mess.

 

Now I can’t go anywhere anymore

without a daddy or a brother.

I dream of Connie standing at my door.

She says there will never be a day when I’m without her.


Wear your pink dress.

Clean up your mess.

 

May 5th

You grew like a vine.

You grew inside.

You grew a short time.

Made a womb your tomb.

 

I made no bed

wherein you could sleep.

I did not bring silk and tin.

No sleep tights, no fist fights.

 

No milk will be offered.

Praying hands, fodder.

Not bought, only earned.

I am cold mountain stone.

 

Should we meet behind the curtain,

I will open you like a fan.

It’s nice to know you again.

You are not weak. Learn to speak.

 

The Nobleman and the Queen

Silver fists come flying.

If I could open them, I’d lay inside and sleep.

The vines into the ruins

and at the door a beggarwoman turning,

 

“Have you seen the mad bull idling,

whose spine rises the edge of an arrow feather?”

Swaying into the moonlight,

that is my father I scarcely know anymore.

 

Father’s a nobleman.

Mother’s a queen.

Do not let me die before I...

 

Forgive me, I was there no longer.

The great white lily wilting in his breath.

My tears are not weapons.

I’ve grown boughs carrying the weight of snow and ice.

 

His bold body staggers,

pulsing down to the ivy ‘round his legs.

 

In my arms, he is shards of rain,

collected by a child’s hand.

My father, his breath and blood,

drain into the cradle of my marrow.

 

Father’s a nobleman.

Mother’s a queen.

Do not let me die before I...

 

Dangling gravedigger lashes.

Love is not dead beneath the mask of earth.

The beggarwoman burdens me,

howling for my return to the ruin.

 

Father’s a nobleman.

Mother’s a queen.

Do not let me die before I...

 

29 Bells

Here the profit comes

and the hard cash

my husband becomes.

 

The man got away

who as good sparked

the coal seam’s methane.

 

My love is gone

and here come my children

the coal baron will pawn.

 

I ring a bell

and that man hears

every strike swell.

 

It rings in the night,

it rings all day,

it rings in this fray,

it rings like children

drowning in the lake.

 

 HUNGER

by Cashavelly Morrison

Hunger 

Here they come a-hunting after they just been fed.

There’s no end to their hunger until God kills them dead.

 

They drag us from behind and skin us for our hides.

They bite down and we keep them alive—

How many times before God kills them dead?

 

Here they come a-stealing the babies from our beds.

There’s no end to their hunger until God kills them dead.

 

They drag them from behind and skin them for their hides.

They bite down and our babies keep them alive—

How many times before God kills them dead?

 

I have hunger too as I lay in bed

that your hunger ends before God kills me dead.

 

Someday you’ll be cornered by soldiers gathered

‘round your bunker with a gun to your head,

alone with your hunger as God kills you dead.

 

Gunmaker

I’m not a man who raises his hand. Most days I don’t give one god damn.

But I’ve cast enough molten metal to know my hands have known the devil.

How will I pay for this slaughter of the lambs?

 

The news tells a tale of four killers as I hammer the guard of a black trigger.

Maybe their mothers are to blame. You know, my brother’s a builder by trade.

I could’ve been a builder. I’m a gunmaker.

 

I dreamed my daughter was a firebomb, who I rocked and sang to all night long.

This trail of bloody dirt and here she stands waiting her turn.

Any man could do her in, right or wrong.

 

My silver stars shine in their case that I sell to buy my pretty girl lace.

The barrel of alloy on her head, easily destroyed.

Lately, I can’t look her in the face.

 

Night Feeding

I’m up in the night with my baby.

How many mothers in the world are doing the same thing?

My girl screams in my arms. Is she a wolf or a fawn?

Well, silence wouldn’t save her for long.

 

Maybe she’s screaming at you,

the kind of man I’ve come to know and she’ll know well too.

Who’ll carve your belly with a thorn so all you make is stillborn.

I didn’t want him so I don’t see him anymore.

 

My girl, you’re an animal coming nearer in the dark.

Your call is thunder-wide.

All your enemies hide. All your enemies hide.

 

Maybe she’s screaming at me if again

I trade myself for what’s he’s hunting.

With a rifle’s aim on my head, I taunt him to go on ahead and

take what of my body is left.

 

My girl, you’re an animal coming nearer in the dark.

Your call is thunder-wide.

All your enemies hide. All your enemies hide.

 

My girl, when I birthed you on that bed,

like every mother in the world I screamed down death.

You’re the wolf’s teeth in the fawn’s head.

You don’t need him to kill a beast to make sure you’re fed.

 

My girl, you’re an animal coming nearer in the dark.

Your call is thunder-wide.

All your enemies hide. All your enemies hide.

 

Hue and Cry

I told Mama he was swinging a knife.

She said, “Don’t worry, he knows wrong from right.”

I told her he’s going to take what’s mine.

She said, “Everything will be all right.”

 

Then I saw him coming through the pines,

dragging his knife with his mighty bloodline.

The forest was burning from behind.

She said, “Everything will be all right.”

 

When the children ran, hue and cry,

Mama sang me a lullaby

about a boy who hid in a pipe

and licked rust to stay alive.

 

I saw his face reflected in his knife.

Like a bullfight, my shirt turned red from white.

In Mama’s arms my veins drained bone dry.

“Mama, is everything still all right?”

 

Sixteen

I have the will to remain feral

as my body’s sea swells

and breaks my body’s dams.

I don’t want to overflow into the hands of every man.

 

I sew my legs up. I have to live in the bathtub.

With a lighter, I Braille my skin

and I hammer my feet into fins.

Every day I shed more of my name.

 

The sun is silver from underwater

as if replaced by another.

Every seam—

sixteen.

 

My mother comes to me,“What have you done to your poor body?”

I’m like a river with land to devour,

drowning every seed and wildwood flower

on it’s way to the ocean far from this mountain.

 

The sun is silver from underwater

as if replaced by another.

Every seam—

sixteen.

 

The ocean never concedes. I have to crawl on my belly.

Underwater I cannot breathe.

Even with fins, I sink.

Had I cut my pattern like a sailmaker…

 

Ashes White

All night I nurse my lover’s son

who has nothing of my husband’s blood.

Like a shadow on a sheet, oh my baby I hold

from my husband’s hand and a gun.

 

My husband takes my long mane

and demands my lover’s name.

The name of a stranger is what I gave

and, with it, a killer I became.

 

My deadly shade of white.

A line of ghosts lost in the pines

and the drum of the march to Calvary

to keep us pure and white.

 

My husband returned and told of his fight,

dragging a man to the coke ovens that night.

He burned him from black to ashes white,

the stranger I crucified.

 

My deadly shade of white.

A line of ghosts lost in the pines

and the drum of the march to Calvary

to keep us pure and white.

 

Who Will Testify

There is a river in my hometown you think belongs to you,

as it siphons little bodies drowned and smothers white roots.

Where’s my darling one?

 

Pulled under the wave of your wake,

washing the shore away.

Have you undone enough?

Who will testify to your life?

 

Always searching for a bigger beast to leaven your hands.

Only your beast is the boy within you drown to make you a man.

Where’s my darling one?

 

Pulled under the wave of your wake,

washing the shore away.

Have you undone enough?

Who will testify to your life?

 

School Girls

The dancer will be executed.

Her age will show.

On display, she will atone,

wearing the gauze of her last role.

 

She draws on her face

for the pleasure of the full house.

With her teeth, her tongue bound

in her pretty, little, pink mouth.

 

Good heavens, girl,

watch the show wherever you go.

Call her pretty and toss her gold

and the school girls taking blow by blow.

 

She dances like a minstrel.

So does her replacement.

A sign on the backstage door

to warn the others she’s a whore.

 

Good heavens, girl,

watch the show wherever you go.

Call her pretty and toss her gold

and the school girls taking blow by blow.

The Altar

To be made of alabaster.

The carved and the carver.

Don’t you know the statue envies the altar?

I am my own father.

 

To wander the desert,

unafraid of the thirst.

Don’t you know your true shape is water?

I am my own mother.

 

To the locust swarm,

where some protect and some harm,

where some eat what belongs the other.

I am my own sister.

I am my own brother.