Yona Harvey

In Toni Morrison’s Head

White girls die first.
Which means I’m still
alive, but breathless &
on the run in the brain’s
maze of scrutiny. How
I stumble in the memory
of Ohio, old names & faces
given me: Pecola, Dorcas,
Violet, Nel, First Corinthians.
Reinvention is my birthright.
With each step I am altered:
mother, daughter, river, sun. A tree
swells on my dark back
& no one waits in the future to
kiss me, only the towns-
women hissing at my
inappropriate dress, but not
at the sweet-talking rogue
who travels with me.
Inside the mire my heart
still pulses at first, fatigued
& deathbound, then quick.
There’s not enough milk
for all these babies or
the blue-eyed dolls yanking
their mouths open & shut.
Give a little clap, clap, clap,
chant the children & there’s some-
thing ancient about the music’s call
to order. (Put them in your lap.)
Who wouldn’t stop to trace
the scars on the walls, their
embroidery of skin, stitches
that stretch for miles? Not I,
says the Jolly Old Woman
disappearing in a warm tunnel,
asking, Toni, won’t you tell me
a funny story?
I cut my losses
& sprint. I’m smoke, I’m ash,
Holy Ghost & Crucifix,
the preacher reborn to a body
in the grass, chirping, Death
is so much different than I imagined.

Yona Harvey
In Toni Morrison’s Head first appeared in The Journal, Vol 26 No. 2 and Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade.