Poem of the Week | February 25, 2019

This week, we are delighted to share a new poem by Tiana Clark “Indeed Hotter For Me Are the Joys of the Lord.”

Tiana Clark is the author of the debut poetry collection, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Equilibrium(Bull City Press, 2016), selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Clark is the winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, as well as the 2017 Furious Flower’s Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. She was the 2017-2018 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. Clark is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (M.F.A) and Tennessee State University (B.A.) where she studied Africana and Women’s studies. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, BuzzFeed News, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Oxford American, Best New Poets 2015, and elsewhere. Clark was recently a finalist for Missouri Review’s 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize.

Indeed Hotter For Me Are the Joys of the Lord

after and for “The Seafarer” and Gabrielle Calvocoressi

I can make a true song
about my body, a ship.
My body, a map
thumbtacked with shame.
Who has the audacity
to take up this much space?
I can make a long poem too
and not say sorry         for me,
myself. I carry myself
like an excuse. I carry myself
constellated with worries.
I say sorry for me,
myself. I carry my borders
like a burden. I carry the borders
of my body like a burdened beast.
But how often have I endured the storm-
driven words of longwinded
white men: hot about my heart,
my house-slave heat?
My mighty thighs burst cobalt
in their reaching and reaching
without completion. Me,
myself, always on the rim
of coming and not coming—
a poem hurts like that, doesn’t it?
A familiar frustration:
all that grunting and grinding—
then saying nothing after the peak
animal sounds. But a body has to spill,
right? So I took the pleasure as myself
and touched myself there.
Can I call that God?
Can I, perhaps, want that more
than God? Does God still want me
when I don’t want God?
Does God still want me
when I succumb to other Gods?
Does God still know my name?
Does God still know my name
when I’m wet and worn
from all that nasty shame,
unzipped by desires
I’m not ready to name?

Last night, I couldn’t sleep,
so I raised my hands,
another kind of reaching.
I whispered, Take this tight sea
out of the bog in my breast.

My spirit out in the rigid
waterways. The rapid river
lifts for a moment,
and for a moment         I’m freer
but it all cascades,
everything ricochets back       inside me
inside my wonky mud drum of body,
booming a thick morass of want.
But can’t that be a type of worship too…
on my knees? Like a sub?
My mouth gagged with a pink ball
of poems? Getting what I want
and then losing it? Begging
for what I need, but never getting it?
If my body be a long poem
then I want it to go wherever it needs.
I lick dirty verbs in my teeth and feast.
I go back to the buffet with my dirty plate,
because I want my body to say all it has to say
and not be sorry for the saying. Of. It.
I want the long poem of my body
to not apologize for the space it needs
to make and makeup. I want to relax
inside a long poem and not feel shame.
Who do you think you are? I repeat.
I am what the long poem says about me.
I am the Seafarer hotter about the Lord,
cold, yet searing with unmet pleasure
and exile, elemental in my suffering.
I want to stop the repetition
that says: I’m shit—I’m nothing—I’m
shit—I’m nothing—I’m…I’m…I…

I want to stop the wrist from erasing
my blackety-black-black breasts.
I want to stop my gratitude
from being made a weapon
formed against me and I want this all
from the not-sorry long poem
and I want that giant-luscious-deep
wanting to never stop in me.
I want me to not stop me.
Lord, please don’t stop.
Don’t stop. Get it—Get it.

Who do you think you are
without shame? Enough.
My body, a pool of pleasures
and my own pleasure first.
I’m done with lying there
clenching from pain, taking pain,
absorbing another person’s pain
and calling that pleasure.
My body, a ship, my body
be a long poem, my body
my body without shame,
without shame—

G tells us to draw a map
of how we got here.
G says start anywhere.
G says make a boat
out of paper. G reads
a long poem called “The Seafarer”
while we make the little paper boats.
Little scratches: soft music scrapes
from all the folding and tucking
and folding. Little vessels. Little selves
of our cells. G wants to walk us down
to the lip of freshwater and burn the boats
but Lake Mendota is frozen over.
G wants to know about the engines
inside long poems. G, has a sound
and a symbol. I want a sound
and a symbol, but I’m not ready.
I’m not ready to say what I’ve always
wanted. I’m not ready to point
at what I so achingly desire
from my body or a lover,
because      it is also         what I fear
most        about me,         is myself.
I’m not ready to know
what that might mean.
I might just need a longer voyage
in this queer body shaking
as it’s being named,
called forth and created
from my years of silence,
my years frozen as a little girl
who wasn’t allowed
to desire other girls—
I am choosing to mourn
her here in this long poem
that is my body on the brink.
But I still want joy at the end.
I still want to risk joy at the end.
I still want the repetition of joy
at the end. And God. And God
at the end is my joy and my body,
maximal joy and G is joy and G
makes a Praise House for all of us
and all of us are welcome there.
This is where we have our homes now.
Follow me thither and find belonging
and joy. Our joy. Look how much grief
and gratitude is found in our new city.
My God, what wholeness. G says,
What a lucky sack of stars we are.
Let there be thanks to G and God
at the end. At the end I want
my sound and symbol to be loosened
from snow, Mary Ruefle’s “Snow”
to be exact. Her long poem tumbles
after sex and death and birds and sex
but mostly death, because the poem
about sex is mostly about departure:

? I want to start and end from water
? I took my boat to the frozen lake anyway
? I did the ceremony with my bones, bread, and blood
? I laid my questing-boat-body down on the ice
? My long poem is burning
? I set it on fire with my belly
? I blew my breath for the blaze to rise
? I said nothing to my vessel—I said nothing to my vessel
? I said nothing for the rest of the day
? I said my body dipping in the distance

ice-skating through a veil
of white static

I watched until the snow
held the body completely

I watched till I was complete
I watched till I was gone—


Author’s Note:

I started this poem last year when Oliver Baez Bendorf invited Gabrielle Calvocoressi to Madison, Wisconsin for a reading and Queer Poetics workshop. I almost didn’t make it that Saturday morning, because I was suffering from a string of panic attacks that had kept me frozen at home, buffering. But I deeply loved Calvocoressi’s work and wanted to sit near their generous warmth and brilliance for a few hours. I’m so glad I did, because it was one of the best workshop experiences of my life. I encountered “The Seafarer” a poem that became a giant ship, a voyage for me to articulate the silences I had sealed shut in my life—the poem splashed out, and I didn’t want it to stop. I went home and chased the lines for pages with a type of fervency I hadn’t felt for months. At that time, I had been ruminating about long poems as a radical type of self-care poetics, a way for me to grasp at a maximalist mask: a persona on the page when I felt small and often invisible from the pressures of the world around me, a daily vice grip. I wanted to fight that instinct that was afraid to take up space physically, spatially, spiritually, etc. I wanted to announce the lyric self unabashedly and with a type of swagger I wanted to possess in verse, against concision with an audacity to be very black while exploring nascent desires without shame, but freedom.