A Black Body for Black Love & Other Poems

Maelynn Ford

A Black Body for Black Love

write all your love letters to me in black ink
i want to feel like you see me my skin
the depth of my feeling for you
i have a black heart in a black body
i give new meaning to black heart a black heart
isn’t dead + cold instead it’s
teeming with life + emotion like the tongue of the ocean
deep + dark with all the love i have all of it
i have a black heart in a black body
how full i am to bursting with love with love for you
with a world testing me testing my gangsta my gangsta love
my black love IS love
i am reclaiming the wholeness of black
the intensity it’s perfection for love for my love
i have a black heart in a black body
how perfect this matching
how lovely black ink
for telling and re-telling + reclaiming love
+ histories that they have pinked up
+ coloured red as blood clots NO
i have a black heart in a black body
this is the superior love i have not whitewashed
like church songs or bleached like romcoms
my love is black + true + truth like headlines in black ink
declaring my love for you
i have a black heart in a black body
how wonderful

She Saw Me First

I
in the middle of the pool a watery moon that my grandmother disturbs with her breaststroke the only stroke she knows to save her hair from the chlorine her hair so silver it is a watery moon floating about the gentle ripples in the night never the day she never swims when the sun is hot in the sky only after the water has absorbed the rays the heat and made a warm bath it feels like slipping into nothing if you do it quietly the water the same temperature as your skin and just as dark at night the light that used to glow fluorescent and silver under the water has been broken for years leaving us to navigate dark welcoming waters warm like my grandmother’s words spilling stories from her mouth her voice a song a lullaby of purpose telling me how to save so i can swim in late night summer sessions in a pool with a child who will listen to me as lovingly as the moon watches us make our way across the warm water in a synchronised love language that only we know

II
the cherries are ripe in my little hands that cannot hold more than three so my grandmother shows me how to make a basket with my shirt that will stain pink from the tart juices and still not be big enough because my eyes are big and the breeze on my brown belly is delicate like the tickle of tiny ladybug feet we are out there picking and eating until our arms itch from brushing up to the cherry tree branches that all look like an odd christmas tree with the smallest red ornaments and a bird’s nest the star at the top to the left and the soft fall of my grandmother’s feet as she walks around the tree reaching for the redliest fruit ring around the rosie which are always the highest in the tree every one she picks she counts teaching me one two three before singular and plural reach my shirt my grandmother is an open air teacher teaching me to count under the cherry tree for a classroom with chalk and chairs that will never be as boundless and loved as her own

III
piano music filters through the house that my grandmother bought with dreams and determination the best currency the kind of music that is self-taught through practice and pure desire free from poverty she has learned only basic hymns and exercises from the red royal school of music books i learn swans on the lake to impress my grandmother and she sings as i play wrong notes with clean hands as if am most accomplished press the keys gently she tells me my mother took piano lessons gave up she is disappointed that we do not play the piano the fulfilment of a childhood dream her concerts are intimate god sometimes my grandfather sometimes me pyjama wearing affairs with her careful hands and perfect fingernails touching each key with love they are made out of ivory and blessings are rewards for listening to her sing along with my grandfather far from perfect the sweetest sound fills the living room and in this small moment I feel most like a child of god

IV
at the top of the stairs i can hear my grandmother quietly humming to herself the sound of little house on the prairie on the tv the turning of pages she is reading her bible in the still quiet in the absence of my grandfather she sits on his side of the bed now her side of the bed with a glass of water waiting for me to come and visit after work we watch the waltons i collect violet touched by an angel on fridays say yes to the dress she asks me if i want an expensive dress to wear I just want to say yes to have my grandmother there when i wear the dress she continues to talk to me about the tv shows their simplicity i offer her a glass of water a cup of tea she is happy just to have me sit until the sun sets and my mother comes up the stairs with dinner this has become our absence routine the way we become present for her humming talking reading notes about god on every scrap of paper these evening pajama sessions make me realise my grandmother is my most loved possession

V
as my head emerges through the cloud of strapless cream and champagne fabric my grandmother joins me in the small fitting room where i am trying on the perfect prom dress she has gathered all of her travelling strength the last to help me choose a transformation that is four hundred dollars over budget but beautiful silk shantung like this is worth having and we are in love my grandmother has pledged to buy it as she zips me up we both know it won’t work she tells me ellen can take it in we know that will only spoil the dress so we agonise in the changing room as i clutch the dress to my chest my hips me that i won’t get this dress and wow at this prom i am scared to go to and my grandmother that she who would give me the world all of god’s creations in it and every grain of sand cannot give me this one small thing in this small space i know that it is her love for me that helps to put value on my life her love is currency i can save and spend

VI
sitting on the edge of the bed my grandmother carefully unfolds letter after gossamer letter smoothing the sheets she has saved everything my aunt wrote when she was in college when she got married and moved away my grandmother reads me all of the important bits seasonal changes that my aunt wants children every minute detail of her classroom decoration fall leaves and coloured hearts there are cards from my grandfather signed love deal because she did not use his name delegal for every anniversary birthday christmas musty with age and love when i go i must write too i think about my gossamer wings wet with newness chrysalis slime i make mental notes to send lots of cards and letters describing the four seasons and the english weather with william morris language and my own small poetry this is longest i will be away from my grandmother and she is making a moment that i can put it in my wallet and pull out smooth it out when i am missing her and missing home

VII
she saw me first this is not my memory but my grandmother told me she saw that i was beautiful and healthy and pink with lots of black hair she asked after her own child where was she how was she i was new and my grandmother didn’t know me but she saw me first and she held me first and i imagine that for the space of time until i met my mummy i thought that grammy was mine chanel number 5 with long elegant hands and perfect oval fingernails and precise language that loved me the new stranger but asked after her daughter who she had been loving for almost 30 years already i was the first grandchild a girl she prayed over me i am sure she anointed my head with blessings in the absence of oil god’s own favoured child and cradled me to communicate safety and love that i am sure i felt the moment her eyes warmed my skin were we greek we would be a constellation flower growing endymion’s sleep but there is just my heart all my life a great love story are we

My People in Me

my great-grandfather                        a lighthouse keeper
drowned leaving his wife
one son
many daughters
one my grandmother                        beloved celestial being
who now hover ‘round me
not pinpricks of ethereal light
negro ghosts don’t come so
they feel like the depths of the tongue of the ocean
dark solid weight cool to touch
a version of afterlife velvet + rich
like our skins in the shade of poinciana trees
they from pure gold andros
i feel them watch me at the stove
gentle pressures at my shoulder
make sure i uphold famed cooking skills
guide my hands as i drop goat pepper in the pot
make sure i don’t skimp on salt
in the quiet of night i feel them
picking through my dreams for real matter
goals fit for sweeting blood
bringing them to my sight
for real work to be done

my great-great-grandmother cat island
big obeah queen keeps us covered
made my uncle skin tough
no bullet can touch
saved my mummy life from drowning + fever
keep the rest alive
taught my great-grandmother how to pray               unfettered humble fervently
a litany of names on her knees
said in one breath to ensure
all get the same favour + blessings + safety
that have been passed down
since we were the thoughts of god
made my grandfather a preaching man who talks best ‘bout love
she lives in each of us + i feel her presence
even though i only hear stories
never seen a picture or touched tea bay land
i know she is mine ‘cause i’m smart
like all the people from that bloodline

seymour/sweeting/turner/smith
prayer chant spell incantation        hymn
always on my lips                            a primal song
singing underneath my skin brown
as aunt melva’s
when i touch the soft underside of my arm i think of her
running to new york                escaping
looking for new adventures + lights
+ finding home unlike her salt-air island
the wooden house on the fort hill left behind
for new cultural additions adopted
by my mother who carefully copies her aunt
+ polishes silver + crystal for a table laden
with love at the end of november

stella + lu live in liberty city
a place that feels safe until you
see the ghetto around the house
my grandfather’s sisters
feel like cat island to me
aunt stella     with her american twang
aunt lu           small boned     she hardly talks
but you know they belong to the island
their love feels like soft sand between ya toes
their love feels old like the place where lucayans lived
now their love feels like knowledge in my bones
we pray every night holding hands
this how they run their home
on God’s love + an unhealthy dose of christian tv
i see their kindness
in my aunt rona
in my mummy
the need to gift + fix
what they don’t do for themselves
i see their bickering sistership
in my aunt rona + mummy
such uncomfortable love gifts                   love just the same

there are others i can + can’t name
blooms of blood-beats in my chest
that feel so nourishing + life sustaining
i know das my people in me
all my grammy sisters
araminta viola vera sylvia malinda melva
plus glad her one brother
my granddaddy set too
estella lucy mariah marinetta
ola dorothy zaccheus louis
pressy + maggie like sentinels/angels/sperrit
keep by my bedside + i ain’t scared
they are me before distillation + addition
+ words that sound pretty on paper
their poetry from mouth to ear to air               prayer chant spell incantation

mae + dee play + sing hymns
that cover me years after they leave
i hear the music they made together
late in life sitting at the piano
mae careful on the keys + dee singing
despite his memories playing
hide + seek with each other
God is never lost in him
like seraphim guiding me
i see them most in dreams hovering
solid behind me in mirrors
when yuh granddaddy from cat island
yuh don’t be ‘fraid uh sperrit + yuh know
colonised religion can sit nex’ta obeah
so i slip gold earrings in + look fa dem
i read my grammy bible
so heavily annotated i hear
her voice in red
lose track of the holy words +
read instead her precious ones
in pencil + pen a precise cursive
for a teacher of primary school
+ bible study who loves the lord
so fully believes so fully worships
so fully that i am sometimes scared
to admit that she is my bethlehem star

she is my bethlehem star
she is my star
my star
beloved celestial being
a light so constant in my life              even in death
there is no real darkness
sunlight + cool breeze flow
through my soul
my heart aflame a-flutter like the million
petals on a poinciana tree
my grandmother is
a prayer answered
that i did not pray +
i thank God for it

let us light candles feast on benny + peanut cake
place coconut + pineapple tart before photographs
frangipani + love vine round about the tabletop
sing a hymn a goombay tune beat junkanoo
to remember to celebrate + invite them to linger
perfume the afterlife with fever-grass tea + rum

+ when the ritual is done we must commit
their lives to paper poem story song
for those who come after us in the hope
that they will light candles add our names
to prayers read our words study our wisdom
+ when they look for love light peace comfort
see us sitting in the hollow of the silk-cotton tree

Ritual for Self-Sacrifice

gather all that you want
a well-worn sequined dress
dogged-eared books + a collection
of satin + grosgrain ribbon scraps
prepare the pyre in your backyard
add hibiscus + love vine + thyme
recite a favourite poem or a prayer
call old lovers to make amends
tell them something sweet
leave love letters for family
+ apologies for those you dislike
drink plenty rum + gin
consider adding a clip of fur
from a beloved pet
play suitable music
séance in the sixth fret by exuma
healing by lady saw
to weave the slight breeze
the scene is set now
you should be prepared
if you haven’t shaved your head
consider it but not for long
it doesn’t matter in the end
a bit of yoga perhaps
sun salutations + balasana to relax
now fling yourself on the burning mass
the intense heat will evaporate your tears
do all of this
what more can you give

Maelynn Ford (she/her) is a Bahamian poet with an academic background in English literature and poetics. Her poetry is influenced by nature, and she primarily writes about Black Caribbean experiences of love. Her poetry has been featured in four art exhibitions in The Bahamas and she is published in several online and print journals. She is currently working on publishing her first collection of poetry. You can find her publication history on maelynnbacchus.com.

 

*Image by Benji Aird on Unsplash

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