Fiddle (A Duo)

Cherene Sherrard

Aspirate a note, a sounding in a silo
entombed beneath wet sand where
indigo, salt, sugar, tobacco, cotton, rice
preserve a desperate hybrid crop.

Mouth organ at midnight.
One woman supine, another
quadrilles—all blush crinoline
and caramelized curls—in a swamp:
what slithers and steams, moss.

Antiseptic sun, bleached-bone
sheets twist in the first stirrings
of a storm held offshore by
a single, vibrating chord
as the laundress digs for clams
in the shoal, starlit and moon-dark.

The string snaps. A rupture.

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Originally from Los Angeles, Cherene Sherrard is a poet, scholar, and essayist. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Vixen (2017) and Grimoire (2020), both from Autumn House Press, and Mistress, Reclining—an award-winning chapbook. Her creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in The Rumpus, Plume, The New York Times Magazine, The Journal, Terrain.org, Blackbird, Water~Stone Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She is the Sally Mead Hands-Bascom Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Listed as a “New & Noteworthy” Poetry Collection by The New York Times.

Named after a magical textbook, Cherene Sherrard’s Grimoire is a poetry collection centered on the recovery and preservation of ancestral knowledge and on the exploration of black motherhood. Incorporating experiences of food preparation, childrearing, and childbearing, the book begins with a section of poems that re-imagine recipes from one of the earliest cookbooks by an African-American woman: Mrs. Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cookbook. Mrs. Russell’s voice as a nineteenth-century chef is joined in conversation with a contemporary amateur cook in poetic recipes that take the form of soft and formal sonnets, introspective and historical lyric, and found poems. In the second section, the poet explores black maternal death and the harrowing circumstances surrounding birth for women of color in the United States. Throughout Grimoire, Sherrard explores the precarity of black mothering over the last two centuries and the creative and ingenious modes of human survival.

"Cherene Sherrard reminds us that poetry, like cooking, is as much about ingredients as ingenuity. Her ingredients are positively cornucopian, but it’s Sherrard’s keen, enlivening spirit that gives this remarkable book its flavor.  She makes poems out of fiddle duos, Funkadelic dance-offs, 'sequins of spun sugar,' and especially the first cookbook published by an African American woman. She finds poetry in restoring hair color; she transforms food and people with ginger. Sherrard shows us how to make language, wherever we find it, both tool and weapon. The fabulous Grimoire offers recipes, spells, and instructions for survival."
—Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin 

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