The Smell of Me—
is on his pillow, scent
of unwrapped hair,
with grease and caged fumes.
From the morning:
of sizzling ceramic blades—pressing heat
and circadian fire on my 4c black curls,
the after-singe of straightening (white boy
sniffing me for kindling).
Signature of black char. We are tangled
in the womb of his dorm room.
It is the first time—
His roommate’s neon sign:
a blond and busty St. Pauli girl hovers
on the wall behind my head.
Corona of hot blue sky
as her white savior arms spread
in crucifix with frothy heads
of electric beer spilling and buzzing thin with tiny humming
like a fat bee
caught in a blue zapper—
voltaic and numinous flushing
glazed white cinderblocks, cold
to the touch of my clammy hand
with shadows glowing gauze
and chiffon—navy smearing
to gray silk—early dusk: the body knowing
how and when to absorb another.
My hair smoldering like lit patchouli
as my weather-beaten strands swirl
on his white pillow—sweat collecting
at my edges, moisture and dirt churning loam.
Because I want my smell brackish
and full of darker climates,
I do not wash my hair everyday.
Yes, full of thunderstorm
and terracotta, baked earth and spangled with Tennessee pollen.
From the bar the night before, from
bummed Marlboro Reds
and the bonfire plume
(the week before that)
a drizzle of embers cooling and falling to white ash,
sticking in my hair like dirty snowflakes.
for nine days—hermetic in my glory. My dust all pressing,
pressing into his white pillow like a sponge—porous
as he presses into me—stirring the soil, alluvial.
Fingernails digging into my scalp, muddy with my dark
dandruff. Raking through knotted black wool, curling thick
at the root as I steep, decide to lose my body.
My hair spools the blood, another helix
He is reaching for my kitchen.
Unruly secret at the nape of my neck.
: All those gleaming pots and pans.
: All those cabinets I keep shut. Hush.
I am undone and open.
No order is here/ can’t find nuthin’ back there/ except
a little me/ in a chair by the stove:
hot comb on the black burner, another red tornado.
bowing my head downward—bending me
into a black comma.
Pressing my hair—smooth.
Holding back my ears as I hold back my breath.Gettin’ cooked. Always afraid mama
would burn me.But— I am clanging, full
Tiana Clark is the author of the poetry chapbook Equilibrium, selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. She is the winner of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. Tiana is currently an MFA candidate and teaching assistant at Vanderbilt University where she serves as Poetry Editor for Nashville Review. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Sewanee Review, Rattle, Best New Poets 2015, Crab Orchard Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Offing, and elsewhere. Tiana received the Tennessee Williams scholarship to The Sewanee Writers' Conference. You can find her online at tianaclark.com.