Cynthia Manick

A selection of poems from visiting author Cynthia Manick

Special guest Cynthia Manick

Cynthia Manick on Blue Hallelujahs:

When I describe Blue Hallelujahs I say the book asks the question: if you’re breathing, what makes you alive? Is it family, sex, blues, gender, race, or is it the way the body interacts with the world? It could be any and all of those things but we enter every dark place with our hands, eyes, and then the body follows. There’s a section of the book called “A Body Full of Verbs” where the black female body is at the core of the poems. I’m obsessed with the concept of beauty and erasure. Place is a circular concept in the book because the poems have multiple geographies. Some poems are based in the South where my family originates, while others exist in present imagination. For example, I have a poem called “Dear Black Dress” where the speaker knows that dress will get her in trouble, but it’s a trouble she likes.



Walking into my grandmother’s kitchen
feels like a slow applause under the skin.

The smell of something two-toned,
baked, or scorched just right
like bramble spices or buttermilk.

On summer Sundays the family Bible
comes out and the tablecloth stays clean.

Bone china, the set reserved for company
little glass jugs of syrup, brown-eyed
Susans picked from their beds, butter

spilling over like a dream, and pears
so green it bows the body inward.

In the corner a dog named Coca sniffs
for scraps or sausage to roll his way.
Don’t feed that dog, she says

I’ll be the one cleaning his shitty belly
on the Lord’s day, don’t feed that dog.

All is fame for the color burgundy.
Wide-brimmed church hats, heavy tights
cause good girls don’t bare naked legs

on Sunday, and her June house dress
that gapped two inches in the front.

Under its folds, the muscles are doughy
from three babies grown, gone.
They all ran to this kitchen, tooth-

gapped, short dark arms stretched
out to say give me mama, give me.

When she calls our names now, grand-
daughter one and two, we move
to the table like red ants coming in

from the sun, waiting to nibble biscuits,
holy gossip, and a salty hymn or two.

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How a Poet Carries Weight

I’m trying not to become
one of those disappearing things —
exotic creatures, a body
covered by afghans, or a face
behind a opaque veil.

I stopped reading Glamour, Cosmo
and Photoshop Weekly cause
those magazines
they can’t handle
the pine beneath my bark,
the lushness in curves
the round rolls above the pubis.

How I glitter
from inside and out,
and write odes to ovaries
playing the samba,
sonnets to the urethra
and contrapuntals of the rib.

How each poem jockeys
for position like climbing up
a complex DNA scale
cause I know how to carry weight —

my mama taught me,
to bind the heart to a cave
of scars, manage all 206 bones
in my body, my sister’s body
and yours.

When in doubt I look to Gwendolyn,
Phyllis, and Lucille
standing still in my umbra,
the darkest part of my shadow
and know I can survive
any type of burning.



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Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand

In the right light I’m beautiful.

Covered in flour and paprika
balled cubes of meat,
you can still see patterns
fault lines in the palm center;

the first throw of jacks
and rocks when I was six,
golden frogs that bleed
and bleep so high;

a body twirl in Sunday’s best
colored swan lake
smoothed gloves in church peach;

the steam of the hot comb
the weight of it
cause nappy heads can’t hold
cherry barrettes or the sound
of light-skinned caramel boys;

grandmothers words—
you have to pull flesh
from the throat not the belly,
you are two kins away

from pulled cotton,
don’t waste any part of the pig
stir hog soup when cold comes;

the cool wash of river
on stiff limbs when death came, settled
her like a nesting doll;

all was changed with corn whiskey
out of fruit jars, and fingers
trailing the land of bodies

Christ is amazed
with taffy babies
those shriveled sweet things—
with vein-rich palms of their own.

In the kitchen I’m beautiful.

Garlic and onion shines brown
in the light, and fistfuls of mackerel
cover nails at the seams—

it tempers a woman
cause the muscle knows
how to wield a knife
and hold close salted migrations.