Sisters mine, beloveds
those bones are not my child.
I am a woman at point zero;
The wind done gone
into a dark alliance
forged from the devil’s pulpit.

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon
a mercy, please.
Let’s make dust tracks
and leave the dilemma of this ghost
to those who live in a city so grand..
Those bones are not my child.

Word of mouth spread
among the not-so-little women
with no technical difficulties.
The blues people, midwives
to a people’s history,
who believed horses
make a landscape look more beautiful,
shed petals of blood
as they walked on fire
to grieve
in a land without thunder.



Book titles used in this piece:

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Beloved and A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Those Bones are not my Child by Toni Cade Bambara

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Unburnable by Marie-Elena John

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Dark Alliance by Gary Webb

From the Devil’s Pulpit by John Agard

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon, ed. Ann Wallace

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Dilemma of a Ghost by Ama Ata Aidoo  

A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo

Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Technical Difficulties by June Jordan

Blues People by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful by Alice Walker

Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance, ed. Beverly Bell

Land without Thunder by Grace Ogot

For the rest of the year, I will be posting bits and pieces from books I’ve read this year…even if they didn’t make it on my end of the year roundup. Today’s “bit” is Belle Waring’s It Was My First Nursing Job excerpted from Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.


It was my First Nursing Job

and I was stupid in it. I thought a doctor would not be unkind.
One wouldn’t wait for a laboring woman to dilate to ten cm.

He’d brace one hand up his patient’s vagina,
clamp the other on her pregnant belly, and force the fetus

through an eight-centimeter cervix.
She tore, of course. Bled.

Stellate lacerations extend from the cervix
like an asterisk. The staff nurses stormed and hissed

but the head nurse shrugged, He doesn’t like to wait around.
No other doctor witnessed what he did. The man was an elder

in his church. He chattered and smiled broadly as he worked.
He wore the biggest gloves we could stock.

It was my first real job and I was scared in it.
One night a patient of his was admitted

bleeding. The charge nurse said, He won’t rip her.
You take this one.

So I took her.
She quickly delivered a dead baby boy.

Not long dead-you could tell by the skin, intact.
But long enough.

When I wrapped him in a blanket, the doctor flipped open the cover
to let the mother view the body, according to custom.

The baby lay beside her.
He lay stretched out and still.

What a pity, the doctor said.
He seized the baby’s penis between his own forefinger and thumb.

It was the first time I had ever seen a male not circumcised
and I was taken aback by the beauty of it.

Look, said the doctor, a little boy. Just what we wanted.
His hand, huge on the child, held the penis as if he’d found

a lovecharm hidden in his grandmother’s linen.
And then he dropped it.

The mother didn’t make a sound.
When the doctor left, she said to me in a far flat voice

I called and told him I was bleeding bad.
He told me not to worry.

I don’t remember what I said. Just that
when I escorted her husband from the lobby

the doctor had already gone home. The new father followed me
with a joyful strut. I thought Sweet Jesus Christ

-Did the doctor speak to you?
-No ma’am, the father said.

I said quick-as-I-could-so-I-wouldn’t-have-to-think-
The baby didn’t make it.

The man doubled over. I told him all wrong.
I would do it all over again.

Please, sir. Sit down. I’m so very sorry to tell you

No. It’s been sixteen years.
I would say, I am your witness.

No. I would never have told the whole truth.
Forgive me.

It was my first job
and I was lost in it.

Word of Mouth

May 11, 2011

I just bought this book today. The first poem I read, and absolutely love, is by Kevin Young:


Eddie Priest’s Barbershop & Notary
Closed Mondays

is music   is men
off early from work   is waiting
for the chance at the chair
while the eagle claws holes
in your pockets   keeping
time   by the turning
of rusty fans   steel flowers with
cold breezes   is having nothing
better to do   than guess at the years
of hair   matted beneath the soiled caps
of drunks   the pain of running
a fisted comb through stubborn
knots   is the dark dirty low
down blues   the tender heads
of sons fresh from cornrows   all
wonder at losing   half their height
is a mother gathering hair   for good
luck   for a soft wig   is the round
difficulty of ears   the peach
faced boys asking Eddie
to cut in parts and arrows
wanting to have their names read
for just a few days   and among thin
jazz   is the quick brush of a done
head   the black flood around
your feet   grandfathers stopping their games of ivory
dominoes   just before they reach the bone
yard   is winking widowers announcing
cut it clean off   I’m through courting
and hair only gets in the way   is the final
spin of the chair   a reflection of
a reflection   that sting of wintergreen
tonic   on the neck of a sleeping snow
haired man   when you realize it is
your turn   you are next


Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered