On Coming Out at Seventeen

Sequoia Maner

"First time I got the full sight of Shug Avery long black body with it black plum
      nipples, look like her mouth, I thought I had turned into a man."

                                                                                        — Alice Walker, The Color Purple

When on the verge of ripening into plums,
Some girls dream of sunsets & of other girls
Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky
Some girls dream of her body as book while
Tasting the bitter of their own skins
When on the verge of ripening into plums
Plucked to be eaten or preserved
Through gentle pressure & a slight twist,
Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky
Split to open center & amaranthine flesh,
Pruned back to unharmed parts
When on the verge of ripening into plums
In the middle of concrete cities where fruit
Coats pavement & smoke shadows the moon
Some girls dream of bursting beneath darkening sky—
Water her roots; Cut back her branches &
Turn her full-faced to sun
When on the verge of ripening into plums—
Some girls dream of bursting.

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Sequoia Maner is an Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College where she teaches classes in African American literature and culture. Her newest study of Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly is available through the 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury, 2022). She is coeditor of the book Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge, 2020) and author of the prize-winning chapbook Little Girl Blue (Host Publications, 2021). Her poem “upon reading the autopsy of Sandra Bland” was a finalist for the 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and her writing has been published widely published in esteemed venues such as Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, The Feminist Wire, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, The Langston Hughes Review, and Auburn Avenue.

Little Girl Blue: Poems is a collection of elegiac poems that conjures a tapestry of Black voices from history, the victims and the heroes who have helped us see ourselves and the world more truthfully. In these poems, we are not only called to witness injustice, but to hold space for what blooms from it: a confrontation full of exile and longing, an unshakable sense of joy that defies even death.

This work is a powerful and unique blending of history, memory, and music—as Amanda Johnston says in her introduction to this collection, “As painful as it is to revisit the trauma of such grotesque human realities, Sequoia guides us through our bodies and reminds us we are here to do much more than die. We are here to discover our unique sensual selves through self-discovery and creation.”

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