S is for Spriggs – Two Get-Me-Every-Time Poems by the American Poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs

American poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs (1981 – )


What Women Are Made Of

There are many kinds of open.
— Audre Lorde

We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;

we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root

and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
and lobe. We are hippocampus and exposed nerve

and cornea. Areola, pigment, melanin, and nails.
Varicose. Cellulite. Divining rod. Sinew and tissue,

saliva and silt. We are blood and salt, clay and aquifer.
We are breath and flame and stratosphere. Palimpsest

and bibelot and cloisonné fine lines. Marigold, hydrangea,
and dimple. Nightlight, satellite, and stubble. We are

pinnacle, plummet, dark circles, and dark matter.
A constellation of freckles and specters and miracles

and lashes. Both bent and erect, we are all give
and give back. We are volta and girder. Make an incision

in our nectary and Painted Ladies sail forth, riding the back
of a warm wind, plumed with love and things like love.

Crack us down to the marrow, and you may find us full
of cicada husks and sand dollars and salted maple taffy

weary of welding together our daydreams. All sweet tea,
razor blades, carbon, and patchwork quilts of Good God!

and Lord have mercy! Our hands remember how to turn
the earth before we do. Our intestinal fortitude? Cumulonimbus

streaked with saffron light. Our foundation? Not in our limbs
or hips; this comes first as an amen, a hallelujah, a suckling,

swaddled psalm sung at the cosmos’s breast. You want to
know what women are made of? Open wide and find out.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs from Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl Magic, Haymarket Books, 2018

I am so grateful to Haymarket Books, the self-defined “radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago” which introduced me to Bianca Lynne Spriggs in the anthology Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl MagicI like this poem and Bianca’s poetry enough I am featuring her again here a little more than a year after I featured her to celebrate International Woman’s Day last year!

My exposure to Haymarket has been through their poetry publications that publish voices from typically non-white communities that been under-represented in so-called mainstream publishing. Not just the marvelous BreakBeat Poets anthology series (now with four volumes including the latest LatiNext) but individual volumes as well including If God is a Virus by Seema Yasmin that I featured a few weeks ago in my blog post Y is for Yasmin. And their BreakBeat Poets anthologies celebrate poets, some well-known, others not, that add a necessary vitality to today’s poetry scene.

The poem I feature today by Bianca that I also featured more than a year ago: what a exultation! What a list poem! What a celebration of womanhood. The drive, the musical jive of this poem. The beat of the repeat, ten times of we are. Yes lots comes after each we are but I hear as well the cry-out of we are! We are. This triumphant acknowledgement. Then the three huge questions that anchor the poem. Alter its grammatical mood. Slow it right down.

What an example of poetic craft. The images that come at us relentlessly with such music. The range and variety of those images! Then the form that contains it all: couplets that strain to contain the velocity of the words but in that restraint intensify them!

And a brief bio of Bianca! Coming into poetry through spoken word performances she was inducted into the Affrilachian Poets in 2004. In Wikipedia she is quoted as saying “I had never really seen anyone Black addressing a large crowd other than a minister, a politician, or an entertainer. I didn’t even know Black people did stuff like read poetry in public.” Now she has a Ph.D from the University of Kentucky, is the author of five poetry collections and editor of  three poetry anthologies and is currently an assistant professor of English at Ohio State University!

This next poem of Bianca’s published in 2018 is cited in Wikipedia as one of the most frequently viewed poems on a list of social justice-related poems maintained by on-line journal Split the Rock! You can hear Bianca reading it here.

To the woman I saw today who wept in her car

Woman,
I get it.
We are strangers,
but I know the heart is a hive
and someone has knocked yours
from its high branch in your chest
and it lays cracked and splayed,
spilling honey all over
the ground floor of your gut
and the bees inside
that you’ve trained
over the days and years
to stay put, swarm
the terrain of your organs,
yes,
right here in traffic,
while we wait for the light to change.

I get it.
How this array of metal and plastic
tends to go womb room
once the door shuts,
and maybe you were singing
only moments before
you got the call,
or remembered that thing
you had tucked back and built
such sturdy scaffolding all around,
and now here it comes to knock
you adrift with only your steering
wheel to hold you up.

Or, maybe today
was just a tough day
and the sunlight
and warm weather
and blossoming limbs
and smiling pedestrians
waiting for their turn to cross
are much too much to take
when you think of all that’s left
to do, and here you are,
a reed stuck in the mud
of a rush hour intersection,
with so very many hours left to go.

Woman,
I know you.
I know how that thing
when left unattended
will show up as a typhoon
at your front door
demanding to be let in
or it will take
the whole damn house with it.

I know this place too.
I get it.

But because we are strangers,
because you did not see me see you,
my gaze has no more effect
than a phantom that stares at the living.
And yet, I want you to know that
today, in the hive of my heart,
there is room enough
for you.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs from Split the Rock, October 2nd, 2018

The empathy in this poem so stands out. The impulse to not make this woman in her car an “other” but for the speaketr to see herself in this so-called stranger. This is the wotrk of an artist Bianca says in her interview in the Cold Mountain Review, Spring/Summer 2017:

I’m looking at connections between everything in the cosmos and the natural world and I think people who don’t make art on a regular basis, forget that everything is connected, and you can put yourself in the place, a sort of feeling-place or thinking-place. And empathy is the casualty of that. Because once you can imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes or someone else’s experience you cultivate compassion.

Such a great thought for me to hold today. Everything, everyone is connected. So the quality of my attention to this matters! Thank you, again, Bianca!

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