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Robin Coste Lewis, “The Mothers”

Robin Coste Lewis, “The Mothers”

Author: Poetry Editor

June 26, 2013

This week, two poems by Robin Coste Lewis. 


______________________for and after Gwendolyn Brooks
____________________for and after the Kitchenette Building

We meet – sometimes – between the dry hours,
Between clefts in the involuntary plan,
Refusing to think of rent or food – how
Civic the slick to satisfied from man.

And democratic. A Lucky Strike each, we
Sponge each other off, while what’s grayed
In and gray slinks ashamed down the drain.
No need to articulate great restraint,

No need to see each other’s mouth lip
The obvious. Giddy. Fingers garnished
With fumes of onions and garlic, I slip
Back into my shift then watch her hands – wordless –

Reattach her stockings to the martyred
Rubber moons wavering at her garter.



_____________________“Yet see how elastic our prejudices grow
_______________________when once love comes to bend them.”
_________________________________from Moby Dick

Wood to blackskin
beneath a reversed, distinct
reflection – water sky, not blink –

just after the tender
had arrived, her hold
hefted down with letters, salt

horse, salt junk. Departing
with all the size and catch
bones we’d carried and cleaned.

Then suds. A shy sounding
cow, monkey rope broke
and spiraling down into the wide ink

lead, which began as a narrow foot
but increased into a mile
before we could finish wooding.


I did not want to end
up stove, a trypot or greenhand.
After our quiet capital gam,

I wanted to be heaved,
spend the winter beset by red
ice, stare hours into midnight,

instead of just sitting here
avast – adrift – commenting
on the hot promises of red knots.

No kicking strap, no high hook,
no poke, nor duff, nor book
pages sliced from blubber,

my speckled cover, black and slick.
I’m a fast boat in chase of dry skin,
chaffed by tenderfoots, and new recruits.


But why couldn’t I be
the Ripsack, the Spring
Catch, a Steeple Top or Scrag?

I only wanted to be shot, and to feel
the airy genius of your drogue
drag my salted body back. Up.

Not blasted like this. Keratinous.
Shaved and then slipped into the white
passive spine of your hourglass corset.


If I were going to be
gallied, I’d wanted to be
gallied entirely, O Polynya.

I wanted to be rendered
into something liquid,
flammable. Illuminant.

In lieu of spilled ullage,
I wanted to be a thing
depended upon, poured

into every haven
lamp. Struck–
and then lit.


ROBIN COSTE LEWIS is a Provost’s Fellow in the Creative Writing & Literature PhD Program at USC. A Cave Canem Fellow, she received her MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. She also holds a Master’s of Theological Studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Transition and VIDA. Fellowships and awards include the Caldera Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Can Serrat International Art Centre in Barcelona, and the Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

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