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Editor’s Note: Willie Lee Kinard III was selected by Sonia Sanchez as a finalist for Boston Review’s 2021 Annual Poetry Contest.
The Choir, or Chatteracks
Hexapod pumps line branches of the choir stand as we brace ourselves for
weak spots three-by-five strong. Fanning its barks with tambourine shells & what
-ever else from the funeral home, I rock on the edge of old wood.
Beads of sweat loosen both limbs & the elastic of already falling
garters. Like sheets, drawers, & almost anything unholy: we grunt,
& stomp, & I know damn well, we shake some shit up. We fell a veil rooted
in work outdating us. Precede gods with our own flagrant divinities,
the dew of White Diamond & Sean John dung beetle-musking as magnolia.
For eons, I katydid & mary-don’t-you-whip the Methuselah
from the knees of my ensemble & every pew-bound bee asking how
we making more noise than them—as they said, molding the Lord’s honey & making
them look bad. In a word, yes: shaking does the body good. But, I will say
how I felt it: The dry-rot of not-dusk & corners of Pastor’s big lips
already annoyed that we even dare to be hollering for Bug-Jesus
like this anyway: like she ain’t already up & gave Bug-Jesus her best
crook-legged praise. Like she don’t need no help. Like it don’t take all that.
Like we outchea doing some shit she ain’t ask us in the first place. (Like, we
tryna get our holy on!) So, like the rattling deviants we are, we dig
& fill each mouth with surprise & invert our fears into something able
to leave anyone shook. We husk. We hum. We don’t hear what they call us:
Noisemakers. Latecomers. Backsliders. Pillow-biters. Bulldaggers. Nightcrawlers:
O hooligans! O heretics! O word-warpers! O whippoorwills! O mourn
-ing doves!: We sunshine singers. We dewdrop deities. We muses, boo.
We chatteracks. We lightning bugs. We country, nigga: We ain’t studdin’ ’bout them.
When My Family Says We Were the Regulars There
from that part of the country where our church was older
than the white folks owning the surrounding land & my mother
likely knew our enslavers, in our neck of the woods, one does
their best by not reminding them of it. It is regular here:
the name of their family the name of our family stretching the span
of this place’s origins & everybody knows it. Trust: Come as you are
reads as Bring us your best reads as You keep what’s left, meaning a slew
of field hands from the sticks that over time grew haughty: a history
—yes, we are tilling people, barely five miles removed from where
we met the Earth & picked the lint from its scalp, scarred fingers
scraping together single nickels making sure we were presentable.
Pride, our work & work, our refuge, we stitched that shit in our greet
-ings, caught it in our good sense, that is yes, we the regulars here,
the cooks, the cleaning, the choir holding even when the choir
can’t choir no more—we be them niggas—at the door, in the pew,
in the hall, by the grave, in the night, in the text, in the week,
in the Word that was preached by the pastor in the morning
in the pulpit to the people ’cause of envy, ’cause we angry,
on the Sunday when we left them, it was December. We took
our coats & left them coins & wondered why we gave a damn.
Willie Lee Kinard III (he/they) is a poet, designer, and musician forged in Newberry, South Carolina, and the author of Orders of Service, winner of the 2022 Alice James Award. With words in or forthcoming in Obsidian, The Adroit Journal, and The Rumpus, he is the winner of POETRY’s 2021 J. Howard & Barbara M. J. Wood Prize & an avid believer in evening thunderstorms & loose leaf tea. Go see ‘bout them at www.williekinard.com.
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