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.