Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 18: Taylor Byas

Tonight’s offering, “The Black Girl Comes To Dinner,” is a gorgeously written poem whose relevance is absolute in every direction. You don’t need my commentary on the subject; I need only to lift this poet’s voice up as best I can by sharing the poem with you.

I will comment, however, on the beauty of the form: Byas uses the pantoum structure, a repeating and interlocking series of lines, with such adeptness, playing with the syntax of the repetitions to let the form recede into the story. This is complicated, admirable stuff. The pantoum form also highlights the tragic repetition of the subject matter among our society’s failures.

The Black Girl Comes To Dinner

We drive into the belly of Alabama,
where God tweezed the highway’s two lanes
down to one, where my stomach
bottoms out on each brakeless fall.

Where God tweezed the highway’s two lanes
with heat, a mirage of water shimmers into view then
bottoms out. On each brakeless fall,
I almost tell you what I’m thinking, my mouth brimming

with heat. A mirage of water shimmers into view then
disappears beneath your tires. 
I almost tell you what I’m thinking, my mouth brimming
with blues. Muddy Waters’ croon

disappears beneath your tires.
I want to say I’m nervous beneath a sky brilliant
with blues. Muddy Waters’ croon,
the only loving I’m willing to feel right now, the only loving

I want. To say I’m nervous beneath a sky brilliant
enough to keep me safe means to face what night brings.
The only loving I’m willing to feel right now, the only loving
that will calm me—I need you to tell me I am

enough. To keep me safe means to face what night brings
to the black girl in a sundown town—
that will calm me. I need you to tell me I am
safe. That they will love me, that the night will not gift fire

to the black girl in a sundown town.
Your grandmother folds me into her arms and I try to feel
safe. That they will love me, that the night will not gift fire
are mantras to repeat as

your grandmother folds me into her arms. And I try to feel
grateful. But get home before it’s too late and watch out for the flags
are mantras to repeat as
we drive into the belly of Alabama.

This poem originally appeared on the Poetry Super Highway.

***

Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is now a second year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the Poetry Super Highway and the Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests. Her chapbook, Bloodwarm, is forthcoming from Variant Lit this summer. You can find her on Twitter @TaylorByas3, and you can find her work at https://www.taylorbyas.com/.

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