Two Poems by Tiana Clark

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


                      I was born into this world sideways.
Doctor said                                                  
       surgery to break my face
set it right again                                                        
                   as if breaking were that simple.
The wet places my lips have been                                                                                  
         all the boys I’ve kissed –
the many caves I’ve licked                                                                        
     saliva & sweat              
holy water on my tongue.                                                                      
     I grind my teeth at night
wake to white sand in my mouth:                                                                                  
        nocturnal silt, gritty loam.
My jaws pop when I talk                                                                      
                               but if I had the surgery, went cosmetic?
Oh, the typewriter in my bones—                                                                           
                                      yes, I would miss that click/clack the most.


Hair Relaxer: an Origin Story  

… never to look a hot comb in the teeth
                                                      — Gwendolyn Brooks
You came into this world, creamy—full of alkali and burn,
like a baby born of hard labor. Ruler of all things straight
and acceptable. You made kinky your nemesis, fought

genetic bend of curls. Cold lotions brush-stroked the Afro
on our heads inside of our hearts to bloom. Wait for it…
scratch of matchsticks ignited on the scalp. Wait for it…

sting of water pressure on the fleshy bottom of new scabs.
I was seven when it first happened to me. Told mama,
I wanted my hair to swing like the white girls in my school!

I cried at the shampoo bowl, thought pain would make me
beautiful. Learned to suck it up, keep it in, tucked and folded
like origami. Blow dryer wiped those tears away. Salon girl

said, Ohhh, we got it so straight this time! Singe, on the teeth
of a hot comb forged from the European Gods of smooth metal.
Swipe from root to unruly tip. Rise of smoke—from the kindling

of burnt black hair. Rise of smoke—smogging the salons and
kitchens from coarse haired daughters and mothers. Rise of smoke—
from the altar of our vanities. All the wavy hair I broke like the back

of a slave into submission, into black yarn I knew inside me grew
to find my way out of this chemical labyrinth. Out of wanting boys
to glide their wanting hands through my straight hair, out of my

own Minotaur of self-hatred, but I slayed the beast of pretty!
Took my hair inch by inch like the yarn of Theseus to find my
way back to my little self, back to my baby pictures with a fro-pik

in my hair, to the bounce, the spring in every coil. Rain, I am not
afraid of you. Let the water take me back to curls. Let the water
be gospel, brown hydrangea, my grandmother’s silver cotton boll,

my auntie’s cornrows, my mother’s hands kneading almond oil
in my scalp like coating a cast iron pan to shiny black patina. I came
into this world greasy, full of thick psalms. Let the water take me back.

Tiana Clark is a Pushcart Prize nominee and recent recipient of the 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. She is living, performing, and teaching poetry in Nashville, Tennessee. Tiana graduated from Tennessee State University where she studied Africana and Women's studies. She is a first-year MFA student in poetry at Vanderbilt University where she is the Writer In Residence for the East and Memorial houses, and a Poetry Reader for the Nashville Review, an online literary arts journal. Tiana serves on the board for a local non-profit literary center, The Porch Writer's Collective. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Raven Chronicles, Word Riot, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Best New Poets 2015, The Adroit Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Southern Indiana Review, The Offing and elsewhere. Email: