Melanie Henderson

Four Poems from Elegies for New York Avenue, plus an extra

Surveyors and Clockmakers

Pluck a city
from the green stem
tinged ovary pink,
cotton petal plumes
purple along segments,
a compass cut hard,
Banneker remembers

a useful flower,
the purple womb
of black women
stubbornly grows
more practical,
the stigma of rearing
soft, sturdy petals

swelling bright white
in the heat, quadrants
and pores more clear
in the dark, dark night,
our babies tucked safely
in stretched skin glow,
belly of the hazel moon

sun and dirty river water,
folk all over clothed,
decked in the South’s seed,
Potomac River Sundays,
brown saviors of anther
drowning, battling gin,
and the hands that pick us.

Little Bennycover-elegies-ny-ave

Anthony “Little Benny” Harley
(Sept. 26, 1963 – May 30, 2010)

down-turned horn.
thin frames.

no one would guess
his voice, agitated,
sang-talked small rhymes
heavy on the city.

down-turned horn.
thin frames.

somebody had to go tell it,
warn a nation about the people’s politician:
he would never mix enough
baking soda & spit to remove the film
of hotel room set-ups–stings,
the gritty white color of seduction.

down-turned horn.

can’t get him back,
that starving cat nodding
out at the curb on $10 smack.

down-turned horn.

classic stage rock, hip left,
shoulder punch forward,
a stick drop troubles the congo
to be counted, the crowd’s
hands raise no fists for our hoods,
open hands, wide drop and rise
to reach his height– Harley height,
brown push of a legacy
makes the walls weep
with human funk, defiance.

Altar to Emma Louise

Black rosary beads

Blue-capped Madonna
Lourdes water in her womb

Prosthetic breast
to fill your left cup

Acapulco shot glass

Straw hat faded in a sun window

A dried-out spider plant webbing
over a dingy white plastic hanging pot

Handmade ceramic figures
a black man and woman, coupled

Rooster with a chipped tailbone

Sticky recipe card for your banana bread

Can of Natural Light with a swallow left

Nappy soil from Aunt Cecelia’s U St. garden

Red brick dust from the church in S.W.
great great granddaddy built

The gold necklace of Mary ma wears
every single day since you been gone.

Outside my Row House Window

This oak never speaks. It stands static off the curb.
I see it so often, I’ve come to believe I know this tree.
Not real knowing. Flawed knowing.
The unprofound leaves of its body.

Only the obvious: Once,
A wooden ovum bombed a soft country,
Dark flesh of a tree box. And here it hovers.
All quiet and beauty. Like rain caught mid sky.

A bled blanket of corn sheared & flattened like lamb’s wool.
I sometimes forget it’s there,
This oak’s beliefs, its first kiss,
Its trespasses and failures,
Or the reasons it always seems to be in prayer.

On Theodoric C. James’ Porch

Life stage, wood platform
for conversation
rocking chair

The porch
hosts the business of living
all its Old Glorious gradations
of purity and filth
—bucket of shit—
but never does tell.

Though windows break   bare
their cavernous glass souls
to every passing wind,

though the white cover of paint
peels its lips, in due time,

the red roof flaps its shutters
and the blue door takes
the bribe of keys,

the porch is ever-faithful
through decades, terms
of ever-changing company.

Planks distinguish
grandfather from robber
by rhythm of footsteps alone,

weighted under the voluntary
cloak of neighborly briefings
and debriefings,

the porch guards even the
infidelities of green, green trees,

its splinters swell in the warm duty.

All poems printed here, with the exception of “On Theodoric C. James’ Porch,” first appeared in Elegies for New York Avenue.  Main Street Rag publishes a quarterly print magazine, poetry chapbooks and full-length collections, and operates a bindery and publishing company. Founded in 1996, it is located in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Reprinted by permission.

Melanie Henderson, Washington DC native poet, editor, photographer and publisher, is the author of Elegies for New York Avenue, winner of the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. An alumnus of Howard and Trinity Universities, she studied poetry in Dr. Tony Medina's "Boot Camp" and at the Voices Summer Writing Workshops (VONA) in San Francisco, CA prior to earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Her poems have appeared in Drumvoices Revue, jubilat, Torch, Tuesday; An Art Project, Valley Voices, and The Washington Informer. She is a recipient of the 2009 Larry Neal Writers Award and a 2013 Pushcart Prize nomination from Iris G. Press. She is a Founding Editor of the Tidal Basin Review. To read more by this author: Melanie Henderson: Wartime Issue