Nancy Flynn grew up on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania, spent many years on a downtown creek in Ithaca, New York, and now lives near the mighty Columbia in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has received an Oregon Literary Fellowship and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Her full-length poetry collection, Every Door Recklessly Ajar (Cayuga Lake Books) appeared in 2015; her long poem, Great Hunger, was published by Anchor & Plume Press in March 2016. In 2015, she was the poetry editor for She Holds the Face of the World: 10 Years of VoiceCatcher. A complete list of her publications is at her website.
The Great and Marvelous Sugar Baby Has (Not) Spoken
But Nevertheless Attempts to Explain Her New World Sphinxified Self
to the Ignorant, Opiated Masses in a Factory Slated for Imminent Demolition So More Condominiums Can Be Built in Gentrified Brooklyn, New York
an in absentia ekphrastic call (not response)
to Kara Walker’s 2014 installation, “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”
at the former Domino Sugar factory on the East River in Brooklyn
I am no Oz of the cocktail-chitchat
let alone talk among the discomfited,
onlooking hordes who christen me
dumb. I hoard my words instead,
watch as their gadgets reflexively lift.
Go ahead: Try to capture my heft,
digitize my colossal refinery gist!
I rise most regal in this universe of vast
molasses drip, no knickers or racy
lingerie slip, just a birthday suit,
sweet, hearty rump, two lips,
pudendal slit. I am your monstrous
lioness, your reclining evil-eye
bleached & treacly mammy/odalisque,
thumbing the fig, wishing I could
avenge or crucify by fingers snapped, cast
y’all, poof! — into manacled figurines, teach
how it’s taut, such hate. No more pretending
at historical amnesia, or politesse. Stand
in the bootstrap shoes of my blackstrap
lackeys who bring their marzipan platters,
subtleties très doux. It’s you who gaze
as I mask my rage inside the sugarcoat of ante-
bellum grace & petticoats. I am a flapjack,
doo-ragged New World sphinx, goddess
for our cane/beet world-gone-rot where
the powerful deigned to let me sniff, let me
crystallize feasts, the mending, the tending of
their babes & mine, the bowties & braids,
the sponge-bathed loathsome backs, behinds.
I am a white-powdered donut ’round
a Black Power fist, in a tongue or a woman’s
stiff-before-ritual-cutting clit. How many
had to be used up, skeletal, snuffed, devil-
may-care & overboard-tossed? How dare you
dare me to cease & desist! I don’t give
a flying fig or a fuck! See, what I taste
in my curl of a caramel mouth half-
grinned is your sin. Oh, I know: It’s fear
slavering y’all who sainted the stripes,
who averted your eyes from burned alive,
amputate, hog-tie, castrate, lynch.
How many millions of us in your wicked,
your reins? Your cruelty rained — now I reign!
I hex, avast! You overlords of the spindly vats,
the boiling stalks, the bridle scolds & mouthless
pressed-tin shrouds, your biblical homilies
chained to cruelty lollipop-licked, you many
who ballyhooed woe, called it forgetting, called it
peculiar, black-faced battlefield &/or plantation
death in spite of your guilty gadfly hands,
your lily-livered, washed-white past — hey, Poet
Girl, I’m talking to you! You think you’re free
of taint? In command like some pock-marked
Giza Sphinx? I may be freckled after
seven score of parboil leaks inside
these neglected bricks now headed for
the raze. Where nowadays
only the I-beams recollect
they weep brown blood & bleed
distilled & yet I am
such sugar-cubed multitudes, stacked!
I may not speak but mark, my mute’s whip-
smart. I’ll have the last word & (ha, ha) wise
cracking laugh among you smug & puritanical
whores. You christen me dumb, dismissed as
one more broken-record, testifying bitch?
I hoard my words instead.
I wait. I wait.
learn more about Kara Walker at Artsy