Nikky Finney

April 23, 2019 Nikky Finney

Seminar 4:30 PM | Lannan Center (New North 408)
Reading 7:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge


Segregation, Forever

(Three Black boys {strike oil} in the street [after the rain]:

a comic strip.)

There was a time when the shallow warm seas were filled with coral, starfish, and flower-like echinoderms, some were free swimming, but most were fixed by a stem, surrounded, by a circlet of arms.

—fossils : a guide to prehistoric life

Three {Black boys} hurl like invertebrates

to reach the top of the earth wall first. They:

loose sea lilies cut on their hinge line, above thorax, below septum. They,

fly-float with the help of quick feet,

skating to peer a new precipice. Hoisted &

held by their own giggles. They:

counterpoint and twain, three Picassos,

without the matador’s interfering prick or keening European brush. Oshun’s

fingers, six million years long, suspend

each of their high notes. Three {Black boy}

bodies dervish and dangle, their ancient sound fills every sidewalk crack in the

new world. A Benin pointer aligns, then slingshots their heads and lips, while Kuba

thumbs drill then spread wide their toes,

the street Spidermans beneath them. Where

they twist and shout pyramids stretch

into one sheet of long black water. Carpets

of {Black boy} joy spill all the way down. Six plum- paneled perfect arms stretch, into six waving sails,

their open mouths, Simone-esque. A red

Jemima-joy rows them all the way to the end.

They play on the eleven thousandth runway named for Martin Luther King, Jr.

On approach they curve away like Onychaster, brittle beloved

animal flora, from the Mississippian.

I aperture into prickly, 345-million-year-old

net. They are the last great mammals to appear, before the last great rain. So far,

how we got here, why we stayed, no brownie box jubilation of historical life is ever lost on their feet.

My arms twist into barbed 1940s chicken wire,

the twenty-six lion-mouth alphabets of Ida B. Wells rise,

into bale and bill {of sale}, all along

my abdomen I roll out the patent pending

numbers of Black inventors. They dangle

like eastern star mason pendants in between

their wild fragrant street dance, then fall away like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras beads;

the l’s, the e’s, even the p’s, chain link, then

spill behind their Watusi-wide, Daddy Grace slide.

All three, together, remind me of the black rapids of 1919, Tennessee Valley, no warning,

just a freakish summer Sunday breach of river laying everything down, bringing

everything up. From here I know their rocketing

joy must go unrecognized. The Good News of their

pure monkeyshine chicanery must be put away now. All headlines and any waiting new world phylum

must never be reported or filed. Their Black boy joy,

on this slick well-named street, must remain untelevised.

I know history &

(you know) what happens next.

From Head Off & Split  (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2011)

Continue reading Head Off & Split at NPR.


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