For the time beingan ampersand is a boyclutching his kneesto his chest as art.On high, the god of formwears a face on each wrist.Only a god can take and givetime, but the one in front ofthe gun lasts forever.The boy is parenthesis,his shoulders curved,the huddled wings of a bird.The boy’s arms are too shortto box with god. He breaks down-beats of sweat in his sleep.If life is music, the rest is noise,this earth a museum of dead boyswalking. The god has a finger tohis lips. He wakes to the boytaking selfies with The Scream.The boy knows a picturewill only last longer.Frequent warnings readStorage almost full across hisscreen so self-portraits heoutsources to the cloud.As I Lay Dying sits in his bookbag. The page dog-eared that hasthe sentence: My mother is a fish. *** Right nowthe commais a lobe.From afar the god clutcheshis head, in an effortto cover missing ears.The redbone boy was airborne.As we speak, he bleeds in the street.The backpack has landed as parachute.The god yowls watercolors,the way the sky weepsoranges in lung-shapedsegments of grief:quarter, half, a whole.A bullet is a form of punctuation.From a distance it appearsthe boy is fucking up commas.Roger that.The god of variables — a-bridged & for-lorn, dribbles mercyon the mother ofthe slain.The boy’s headphones skipdown the sidewalk in the handsof another mother’s child.The skeletal god’s got bars.A rib cage full of tally markscollection plates in memoryof chicken-scratched bones.The writing on god’s wallwas formerly known as art. *** The boy’s chest has becomea focal point. It rests inhis mother’s arms, a still life painting.The god is MIA.The boy’s mother repeats her prayersagain, & again, & again, & again, & again.Repetition leads to the longing for a god,for a sound as signal, for the absence of a noteor limb. Think of the bo(d)y as con artist.The boy’s mother knows a period issomething missed. She knows objectscan disappear behind a god’s backbut that doesn’t mean they are gone.She holds the boy’s crackedphone in her hands, as if it werethe whole world.A boy is what he leaves behind.What a mother struggles to forgether muscles store as memory.
Copyright © 2019 by Alison C. Rollins
All rights reserved.
The first publication of this poem appeared in Poetry magazine.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Alison C. Rollins, born and raised in St. Louis city, currently works as a Librarian for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Literature fellow. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, The Poetry Review, and elsewhere. A Cave Canem and Callaloo fellow, she is also a 2016 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. In 2018 she was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her debut poetry collection, Library of Small Catastrophes (2019) is with Copper Canyon Press.
Library of Small Catastrophes, Alison C. Rollins’s ambitious debut collection, interrogates the body and nation as storehouses of countless tragedies. Drawing from Jorge Luis Borges’ fascination with the library, Rollins uses the concept of the archive to offer a lyric history of the ways in which we process loss. “Memory is about the future, not the past,” she writes, and rather than shying away from the anger, anxiety, and mourning of her narrators, Rollins’s poetry seeks to challenge the status quo, engaging in a diverse, boundary-defying dialogue with an ever-present reminder of the ways race, sexuality, spirituality, violence, and American culture collide.
"Yes, these poems are lit and enlightened, but Alison C. Rollins's lively charms are always rooted to a notion that 'only things kept in the dark know the true weight of light.' The small and large darknesses cataloged here make this a book of remarkable depth. This is an electrifying debut."
— Terrance Hayes