By LaToya Jordan
White sashes embroidered
with gold letters
showcase our locations:
Bottom of the East River
Abandoned Lot Southwest of Philly
Burnt House in North Carolina
Buried in a Park in Seattle
Last year’s winner pins
the crown to my head.
From Miss Ditch in Ashland County
to Miss Missing.
Mascara tears and black eyes
There she is, Miss Missing.
You probably saw my college graduation
photo on the news and in the papers.
All-American face and form. Flawless skin
now dressed in tiny red mouths
trapped in rigor mortis screams.
I pray for someone to hear
our remains. We sing a raspy song,
reenactment of last breaths
to welcome the new pageant girls.
The newest sisters of our piecemeal gang
include the one with fingerprint tattoos,
a girl who carries her head like a purse,
and the woman whose baby trails behind her,
still connected by the umbilical cord.
The girls add pushpins to the map
on the wall backstage. X marks the spot.
A rainbow of pins, thousands of them
crisscross with our limbs
like cross country railroad tracks.
Find any of the other contestants,
Miss Landfill Los Angeles or
Miss Abandoned Car in Brooklyn,
and I bet that beneath brown decomposing skin,
their bones are as pale white as mine.
Gardening with Michelle Obama
By LaToya Jordan
Flick. Half-moon molded dirt, flick. Returns to earth from manicured nails. She, knee-deep in plush brown. Off her black slacks, flick. Off her cardigan. Palms the soil, splashes her face. Earth river wets her body. Jump up, she twirls in praise dance, arms and legs stretched branches, blossoms. She leaps planters, skips rows of soil staring up at her with wide empty mouths. Forgets cameras. Forgets school children, staff. Forgets her place. Can only hear the hunger of soil. Can only feel the hum, buzzing her skin. Time to dance a twister. Wind her sweat to the ground as seeds. Grow, rhubarb, grow, sings her plea. Grow, rhubarb, grow. A wailing. A rising downpour, this call. Respond the rhubarb crowns, Bury me in the East, bury me in the West, we’ll hear the trumpet sound in that mornin’. Bury and grow, she and rhubarb duet. Grow the broccoli. Bury radishes, grow the cabbage. Bury peas, grow the leeks. Feed the soil until every mineral sings, stuffed. Dance sweaty and spent, she returns to black slacks. Returns to cardigan, to school children. Knees and palms still blackened, she stands. Catches gritty crescents of earth, lick. From polished nails. Lick the soil, lady-like. Cameras flash. Her smile tart like rhubarb.
These Are America’s Children.
By LaToya Jordan
The blurred photo of a 5-year-old on the news
becomes your child. Children with black bars across
their eyes are yours, too.
You collect pieces of unnamed children.
Hide them in a basket beneath your bed.
Take them out at night when the house sleeps.
You should be sleeping, too, but, what if?
I can’t even imagine.
You can imagine.
Take a swim in the dark of your brain that controls
Horrible! Bad! The Worst Things Happen Here!
There floats a child, soft body twisted into animal
shaped hats for strange men to wear.
There floats a girl, chicken skin and teddy bear,
flash haloed round her goose bumped body, posed
for secret social networks where likes are more than likes.
There, a shriveled-skin girl is doing dead man’s float.
Been in the dark a long time. She sings her favorite song,
Baby you’re a firework, come on let your colors burst,
boom boom boom. Hoarse voice keeps the heart beating.
Floating paper dolls in the dank dark of my brain. In size
order, one for every face of my daughter’s childhood.
I’d like this piece of my brain to be surgically removed,
to stop it from casting my child in the role of broken child.
I want to live the rest of my life from the comfort of
that part of the brain where bad things will never happen
to her. Bad things happen to faraway children in faraway lands.
Where bad things never happen, worst thing that could
happen is my kid gets her hands on the figurine collection
on the wall unit, it’s okay if they break. Sliver of ceramic
removed with tweezers, healed by kisses from Mommy.
Here, where bad things never happen I scroll through smiles.
Here, I like the faces of my friends’ children and children of friends
I made as a child. These are America’s children. They say cheese.
Toothy, whole smiles. Here, nobody hides them in baskets.
LaToya Jordan is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. She writes grants by day and poetry by night. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and her poetry has appeared in Mobius: The Journal for Social Change, qarrtsiluni, MiPOesias, Podium, The November 3rd Club and more. Her biggest fans are her husband and 2-year-old.
Political writing in the right hands turns hard subjects deeply personal. I will now spend the long day with a lot of LaToya’s words echoing through me.
As I am not the poet here, I will not try to impress anyone with the eloquence of my comments.
I like your work. Every time I read something that I like written by someone I’ve never met, I feel fortunate to be alive. I am happy to recommend this book to my friends and family.