Poetry by Letta Neely

Letta’s poetry may be found in her books, Juba and Here, as well as in anthologies and on the Zili Misik CD “Cross Roads.” Her latest book, Geographies of Power, will be published by Wildheart Press in 2014. Three of her pieces are reproduced below.

Forward Home
which patent leather shoe belong to which found leg
Untitled Bliss

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Forward Home

Imagine your body
as the universe in concentrate
think how we desecrate this place
we call home—divine spot,
we keep it too hot or too cold
most of the time
not knowing our temperature,
we venture into a rat race
becoming uniformed soldiers
fighting wars about which we are
uniformed
these fomations we build are internal
are funeral pyres
we make our own death beds
and not recognizing phoenix
when we rise, we lean over and piss
on our ashes, crying
talking about next time will be better
bigger different when we’re in the next time
right now.

Still we
forsake our loves, our selves, become selfish, fold into
inferno after inferno seeking the finish line
when we haven’t even begun to crawl home;
just stand burning or
stand stagnating sticking to stinking rotting flesh
waving it like a disparate banner

I have been here before and it’s a lonely place
wearing skin that didn’t fit/ elocuting voices
that were not mine/ diction a perfect fit
for someone else not me/ and you clapped, sometimes
and I smiled but I was not happy. i pushed me into the
farthest crevices
of my own unexplained unexplored territory
I went
in search of something sacred and ended up on a brick
road when I’m from cracked sidewalks and dirt

I ended up here before at this crossroads where jesus and legba
salsa and do line dances, sip crown royal and throw back
tequila shots,
been at the precipice of this cauldron where witches
decide on brooms or bicyles or buses or hitchhiking
and I’ve sat so long and chose nothing
except to snort a line of coke to prolong the waiting
make the anxiety of stepping into pain or
into power go away;
I know fear She run like the Tigris
like the Euphrates like the Mississipi
from my aorta to my great grandmothers
all the ways back to my umbilical chord

I keep ending up here again.

And I died and was reborn. I die and am boring
My way into life again and again from the other sides
And I know Infinite Sustenance She be runnin like the Tigris
like the Euphrates like the Mississippi
from my aorta to my great grandmothers
all the ways to my umbilical chord

Here is where Life begins
Imagine your Body as the Universe in concentrate
Think how we decorate this place we call Home—
Divine spot, we keep it Holy, wholly Free able
to roam in our own Skin, our own Dreams
Think how we Magic the Music in our
Muscles how we exorcise unwanted visitors,
how we sit down to eat at our Tables
how we see our Skyline how we walk
our Shore how we Believe in Beauty
which is before us, which is behind
us which is below us, which is above
Us
Which is us. Which is us. Imagine
Us free and we are free
To be Home
In ourselves

Letta Neely, 2012

This poem is read on the Zili Misik 2012 double CD “Cross Roads.”
Formatting is slightly different due to spacing.

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which patent leather shoe belong to which found leg

1 Cor 13:5 If I give away all that I am/all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing

1 Cor 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
blood on the leaves and blood on the root
. . . scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
then the sudden smell of burning flesh . . .”

30 years later and ahm sittin at a table
trying to make a poem out of 4 brown girls bombed outta they
skins
trying to make a poem about 4 brown girls sittin up in sunday school
singin Jesus Loves Me This I Know
learning “love is gentle, love is kind, love ain’t puffed up”
what make me think i gotta right to make a poem about little girls
turning to smoke/turning to dust
on a sunday mornin/a great believin mornin
ahm talkin bout denise and cynthia
talkin bout addie mae
talkin bout carol
everybody know you ain’t sposed to be talkin bout the dead, but they
wadn’t but babies
trying to croon peace/trying to croon they way through
the waters
30 years later and ahm bout to start a funeral dirge cuz they was
sittin at the 16th street baptist church swingin too short legs
back and forth in pews and gigglin like kids do if they ain’t
thinkin bout death    they wuz
thinkin bout what they wuz gonna do after sunday school/how
they wuz gonna sang in the choir/bout who they thought wuz cute
thinkin bout everything but being bombed outta they skins
singing
                wade in the water, wade in the water, children
                my gawd gon trouble deh water, my gawd gon trouble
                deh water
learning “love does not insist on its own way, love is gentle,
love is kind, love ain’t puffed up”
they wuz waering they sunday perfects to church/wearing they
all the time perfects to church/walkin
down the street to church in 4 pair of too tight patent leather
shoes
thinkin bout what to do after church and school on monday
wonderin bout baptism, gawd, and all
thinkin bout not puttin
a whole 50 cents in the collection plate
not thinkin bout being bombed outta they skins
not thinkin bout screamin
and they wuz singin some song bout
                i will thank the lord and praise his name forever, o lord
                i wouldn’tna made it this far, made it this far, made it
                if it had not been for the lord who is on my side
                the lord has
when it all came to a halt
when everything was charred and the pulpit was gone and the
choir loft
was gone
and the 4 girls addie mae collins
                            carol robertson
                            cynthia wesley
                            denise mcnair
were charred and gone
cuz you know this is a funeral dirge and we got to say they names
this ain’t no book/this ain’t no newspaper talkin bout 4 girls
bombed in the
16th street baptist church/this ain’t no headline fraid to say the
klan did it
the klan did it
we talkin bout cynthia and denise and addie mae and carol
we talkin bout 4 brown girls who wadn’t goin
back to grade school on monday
we ain’t talkin bout patent leather shoes just cuz somebody
wanna know
who shoe this is, which leg it belong to?
this here is a funeral dirge
30 years later
waiting for a song/a leaf/a somebody with an answer
waiting underneath all the new lynchings
                “southern trees bear a strange fruit
                blood on the leaves and blood on the root”

my girls are blk shadows lookin for an answer hangin
from a pulpit blown away
by the klan
september 15, 1963
birmingham, alabama
in a blk baptist church on 16th street
let us pour this libation
let us all say aché

Letta Neely
From Juba

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Untitled Bliss

when she comes, i am
tornado’s eyes,
a hurricane takes my
brain and swirls it into
unspeakable colors of sky and
land and volcano rushes up to
meet the sound of her and lava
runs down my marrow pulling
me further into oblivion. It is
this hot. We molten new
forms; new entities.
We travel seven planets
beyond this one when she comes and
my fist or my tongue
or my spirit is inside
her, we are one
sunrise; red and orange in
soft air, we are one hawk
circling wide winged over the
canyon—one song, i hear
over in my head, “you dropped a
bomb on me” by the Gap band and
it is like this too: I die and
am reborn/ashes again/
reborn.     i see
through the walls.

Letta Neely
From Juba

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