Tameka Cage Conley


If Sula Had a Daughter Raised by Nel


You warn about the world outside,
but I refuse the sound.
I drown you and think of water
that makes me—
my bowels, skin, intestines,
and heart.
My hair, too, is water,
its long, black waves.
My tongue is water,
it laps a man
like an ocean.
You know nothing of this
sweet blood rubies my thighs,
seven days, a steady,
pulsing stream
I love.
You use the word beautiful
as if I reject that in myself.
I reject nothing of myself.


Men say I’m sweet but don’t know it.
I spin them ‘round,
ring their lives dry.
It’s not sugar that drains them
but my salt.
I take them
to a wet corridor.
I shut the door on all their good.
I bruise.
They empty out their pockets.
Buy ribbon for my hair.


Your mouth says
be careful, now child, careful,
as I itch
for the night of me
to climb out from here.
I howl above your head
and move to walk spryly
atop the heads of crows.

The Cell Is the Song

for Whitney Houston, 1963-2012
When I say the word multiplication, I mean eternal,
immortal jukebox with its conductor ghost:
press buttons, light up, wait.
Music. Dance. Pause.
Take a beat.
Play. Again.
Dance again.

The cell is the song, microscopic, epic, tender.

Did Whitney die when the high notes died,
strain beneath her sweat,
rip we could not climb,
love crushed by boos in Sydney—
who ever loved a Black woman?
Thank God,
I have my own
1991 Super Bowl.
Arms and fists raised
in a V,
head back,
gorgeous neck bulging
sky rising up and out,
her mouth
to mend the soldiers’ hearts,
stitch a healing
as flags wave
her on, dazzle forever
with one smile.

Only the invited can touch your hallowed body
entombed in sequins made of gold.
My great grandmother said Mahalia
refused a blues contract, said
she had to sing for God.
But a Black woman’s song does not stop
when her heart does.
She is the ever bloom, petal
of rose that flutters, once
on the ground,
sprouts a tree.

Multiplication, I say,
is what God loves.
There is a new black
called triumphant.
I need its wind in my bones.
Carve some Whitney shine high
on my stiletto.

Somebody, call my name
like you love it.
When I hear the soar, I will clone
anew, another some me, a girl
with braids for eyes,
red ribbon slit for a nose.
She hears like silk, a clean
break, a voice
to set the captive souls

Tameka Cage Conley writes poetry, fiction, and plays. She received her doctoral degree at Louisiana State University where she was a Huel Perkins Fellow and recipient of the Lewis Simpson Distinguished Dissertation Award. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Callaloo, African American Review, and Chapter & Verse. An excerpt of her novel-in-progress, This Far, By Grace, is published in the October 2013 edition of Huizache. She is completing her first poetry collection, In Other Circumstances.
Tameka Cage Conley