Two Poems

Poetry / Destiny O. Birdsong

:: A Theory of Intimacy ::

Sometimes I want a man not to touch me. 
I want us to sit on opposite ends of the couch 
And eat Doritos, like that time me and David emptied 
The box of ice cream bars in his jeep outside Walgreens.
I was twenty and my stomach would take anything. 
Sometimes I want a man to wrap himself around me
So tightly that I forget where I end. Or that I have 
An end, and I become the whole room: tympanic, with granules 
Of starlight singing in me like shards of milk. 
At sixteen I thought cramps and sadness would kill me. 
They could walk through me at any moment; I was an airport chapel 
Of dimmed lights and poems written by white men, and they
Were as formless as the demons who carried away Tony Goldwyn 
In Ghost. Men I still love have turned into these. Sometimes, 
I come close enough to watch them sleeping
Just to see if I can detect the moment it happens. 

:: Another Theory of Intimacy ::

I’m done with the pleurisy of desire, its 
prickly bloat buffeting the ribcage, 

its tendency to render me prone, its 
exhaustion. There must be better ways

of suffering each other. Like the way I offer 
him cookies one by one, and how

he takes them gingerly, as if they’re 
pictures of our children. How he under-

stands the sanctity of sugar. How,
in taking, his fingertips graze my lunulae.

How, hours later, each point of contact 
plumes into a phantom itch. He’s gone. 	

Call it love, the quilled beast who has learned 
to mimic a cooing child while chewing 

pumpkin, except the pumpkin 
is a barbed ransom I hold to my chest 

to lure him back, away from the woman whose 
flesh is—even in winter—the color of a gourd’s,

who’s into cosplay, and comic books written
in French, who’s accustomed to eating dinner 

with other people, not using her hands. 
Lakota women used to throw blankets

on porcupines, catch and release, flattening 
each harvested needle with their teeth. I don’t 

know why I keep coming back, I just 
want the taste of someone in my mouth 

all the time. Love, what can one do about that. 


From the writer

:: Account ::

Each “Inti­ma­cy” poem is a part of a trip­tych of sorts that came about both quick­ly and slow­ly. There was a clus­ter of images that I kept toss­ing around in my head: a YouTube video of a por­cu­pine eat­ing a pump­kin with a woman’s voice coo­ing in the back­ground, and how seeing/hearing that made me think about ten­der­ness and my own desire to (some­times) moth­er any­thing, espe­cial­ly ani­mals; a par­tic­u­lar­ly fond mem­o­ry of me and a friend eat­ing a box of ice cream bars in his car one night after work, and how safe I felt even though he was a man and I had learned that men aren’t always safe; how love just con­sumes me some­times, like my sug­ar crav­ings, but it is a con­sump­tion whose after­math makes me ques­tion why I even both­er. I knew that these were all dis­tinct, but con­nect­ed; I’m not sure if they have COMPLETELY shaped my sex­u­al­i­ty, or what I have come to under­stand about desire, but they are all clues to these things, so I want­ed the titles to reflect their inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty. I’ve car­ried these poems around for years (and writ­ten some rough ver­sions of them), but they all came togeth­er over the course of one week­end; specif­i­cal­ly, the week­end Bey­on­cé released her “For­ma­tion” video. It took me a few view­ings (and a con­ver­sa­tion with a friend about unapolo­getic black­wom­an­ness), but I felt so fierce watch­ing it, and her IDGAF atti­tude about her own his­to­ry, her daughter’s hair, her husband’s lips—all made me feel free enough to draft these poems.


Des­tiny O. Bird­song is a Push­cart-prize nom­i­nat­ed poet whose poems have either appeared or are forth­com­ing in African Amer­i­can Review, At Length, Indi­ana Review, Rove, and else­where. Her crit­i­cal work recent­ly appeared in African Amer­i­can Review, and a co-authored chap­ter on Black Atlantic and Dias­po­ra Lit­er­a­ture (with Ifeo­ma C. K. Nwankwo) is forth­com­ing in the Cam­bridge Com­pan­ion to Transna­tion­al Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture. She is a lec­tur­er and aca­d­e­m­ic advis­er at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty, where she earned her MFA in 2009 and her PhD in 2012.