A villanelle for Breonna Taylor
by David Mills
A black woman’s body was never hers alone.
—Fannie Lou Hamer
Not knock. Who`s there? Battering ram. Shattering who
while firing blindly ::as justice:: through clutched curtains and buttoned blinds?
Some black women’s bodies are ambulances their spirits are driven into.
(With all disrespects to what ìs and its ought tos)
It’s been said Kentucky’s grass dons uniforms blinkered and moody blue.
Breonna’s demise: a couple of itches after the witching hour sanctioned by March’s ides.
No knock. Who’s there? Executed warrant. Executing who?
Unchided for months, Bre’s story barely nibbled by the news (all due
disrespects to the ìs and the ought tos)
but by George ::Floyd that is:: Bre went from mum’s the meme to shuteye-and-die bull’s-eye.
Sister girl’s body a shapely ambulance her spirit was thrust into.
Sleep should be a sneeze no more lethal than the gospel of achoo (with all due
disrespects to the what ìs and the what ought tos).
Unmarked, plainclothed: grievously intrudes that unlicensed night.
Not knock. Who’s there? Battering ram. Shattering who?
Three cops. thirty shots. Riddle me this:: Blackman:: riddling you: (with all due disrespects
to the ìs and the ought tos) why is an ebony XX struck from a head’s lines so many NY Times?
Breonna’s body: impromptu ambulance her spirit had been Louisvilled into.
She, EMT, trained to buoy life not to be coded blue.
white pillow. white case. white sheet. stretcher:: terrestrial ladle for the celestial light.
No knock. Who`s there? Executed warrant. Executing who?
Some black women’s bodies are ambulances their spirits are duped into.
I’m out. (with willfully unpaid last respects and knee-deep condolences to what ìs and what ought to.)
(After either Sarah or Abigail who, while pregnant, participated in the 1712 New York City slave revolt, was captured, kept alive in the City Hall prison until she gave birth and then hung.)
Stooping. whips. gruel. dirt for sustenance. Sarah?
Abigail? Which rebel kept alive, esteemed: until
she delivered her dark cargo? Which woman over
worked what child underweight? Which fruit—its
purchased womb—now ripened? Which one had longed
to own this approaching moment having never possessed
herself? still. she gave birth. A stillbirth? No. Which
umbilical? Which placenta? A veil over the infant’s face?
Which woman, which one will only have an instant—skin
to skin—to bond in bondage. a moment to dilute her newborn’s
tears, to offer a slim suckle? Sundered from her child’s sobbing
there would be no wean in the fullness of time. no wet-nurse.
No. though she had authored her offspring, cooed its day name.
Some mothers are separated by sale. she by death; by hanging.
Will this child come to know beriberi and night blindness? Chores.
will there be for a three-year-old, chores? Toting? Plucking? When
will the death of its mother and a life of bondage dawn
on this child like a bitter morn?
To the Bones: About the Beads: Talking
(spirit of an enslaved, New York woman with beads found in her grave)
That clear glass bead with a clear green heart in your grave?
That ocean we could not see
when we was dragged across
is a drop we shrunk and shackled
It’s now our glittering revenge
There’s a bead in the ground near what would have been your left ear—its lobe
Like all flesh, my lobe
(a bead I would
tickle and tug) agreed
to the earth’s demands
Would this bead have clutched your hair?
Hair like skin also jilted
my bones, so that bead was left
nothing to cling to
What about the grey beads with eight facets?
Some beads got many sides.
Like stories. ‘Spec’lly the ones
that are hard to hear…May I
ask you something?
I’m all ears
What is what you call wax for?
An ear’s bodyguard to stop entry and injury
Well that bead you spotted
close to what once was
my ear, thought of wax
as a skull’s soil as sound’s
sugar: bitter and caked
Talking to the Bones
(spirit of an enslaved New Yorker with a pipe in her grave)
But what of the North?
a cotton boll.
His unfinished floor:
a Tarboro plantation
plans on puffin’
DAVID MILLS is the author of The Dream Detective, The Sudden Country and After Mistic (Massachusetts Slavery poems). He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, Langston Hughes Society, Henry James Fellowship, Chicago State’s Hughes/Knight Poetry Award and a BRIO award. His poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Ploughshares, Jubilat, Fence, Vermont Literary Review, Callaloo, Rattapallax, Hanging Loose and The Brooklyn Rail. He lived in Langston Hughes’ landmark home for three years and his recorded his poetry on RCA Records and ESPN.