from Black Genealogy by Kiki Petrosino, illustrated by Lauren Haldeman
You’re really looking for H, future mother of B. A slave girl born in 1830 to parents unknown. Actually, you think H was born a little before that (exact years may not matter). You find a white man in the county who owned a young female some years before the war. You save this result: Old_Master. You figure that by 1856, your H was 28. Actually, no one recorded her age (her age may not matter). That year, a slave named H gave birth to a son. You save this result: H_Childbirth_1. Later, another H, same owner as the first (now called H56) had a son. You start calling her H59. Actually, you believe they’re the same. Of course, you can’t prove that H56 and H59 are the same, let alone yours, but exact proof may not matter. You know Old Master owned twelve slaves at most. So what are the chances two of them were called H? You still can’t find any sign of B, which troubles you. Until you discover the birth records for the war period: all missing. So of course, there’s nothing for B at the courthouse. Nothing at all. You create a new folder called Nothing for this lucky find.
Kiki Petrosino is the author of three books of poetry: Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013), Fort Red Border (2009), and Witch Wife, all from Sarabande Books. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She is founder and co-editor of Transom, an independent online poetry journal. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Louisville, where she directs the Creative Writing Program.
Biting the Rind
from A Wife Is a Hope Chest by Christine Brandel
She cautiously caught the bee, sealing it in the thicknessof the unsent letter. To put her tongue so close to potentialdanger was the most exciting thing she’d done that morning.She could hear the bee’s wings scraping against paperthat he’d never be able to read. She pushed her chairaway from the table, putting distance, leaving the letterto the bee to do with what he would. But the clock kept tickingon her arm and she set her hand on top of the envelope,not enough weight to crush the bee or smear the words.She’d just have to be patient, feeling the struggle.An orange lay within arm’s reach and she wanted to tear it open,drench the whole table with the wordless wetness inside.But she couldn’t do that to the bee. She bit into the rindand it wasn’t fun. Things aren’t fun when you can’t get out.
Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. Her work has recently appeared in Callisto, Public Pool, Under the Rader, Blue Fifth Review, and The Fem. She also writes a column on comedy for PopMatters and rights the world’s wrongs via her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. She currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she teaches at a community college and serves as a hospice volunteer. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.
BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month
Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”
These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.