Butterfly Hymnals That Won’t Disturb the Pleasant

Complacency, And Other Lullabies

Responding to an object from the museum collection, I created writings based on the Vernacular Photo Series, a box of intimate polaroids collected by Peter J. Cohen from various flea markets across the country. While thinking about these polaroids, Isabel Wilkerson’s research on the Great Migration in The Warmth of Other Suns, and Jesmyn Ward’s imagery in Sing, Unburied, Sing, contributed much context to the project as well as to my personal experiences moving from Houston to Providence.

Uniform spandex binds my hips
like a tight curtain sash,
wind looking much freer than how it usually look
cold and naked in the daylight

As always
ms. keith follows in her same tradition,
grabbing cheeks and
gibbering like some baby

From where i sit i can see ma’s judging eye
tearing me down from her choir pew,
says that last service mrs.lou caught me
flirtin my eyes with some boy

After revival
i head to the reception table,
tempting that german chocolate cake
against ma’s custard white dress

Out of the corner
of coolness
petals lay open faced, juiced
starches flowing
baked on the pavement
loose like tethered skin

Snipping snapping
adhesive footprints
violet smudges, dehydrated
and faint of pulp
in a quiet space of headache
baby buds peel

crawling sticky
like sweat

Sundried tomato,
bitter back tongue sweet
I get a twisty head, a frying stomach
sultry eyed and scared

walk far away and pretending not to walk back
clutching those tired frustrated pockets

furthest from them black boys,
them ghetto black boys,
they beautiful black boys,

they carrying on like flies do,
everywhere on each other but neva touching

crisp ice chilling up the noon
eyes pierced frigid,
suffocating me and my white tee
home from where those black boys be

we lay our tenderized heads stacked in the freezer
searching for whatever treats left over from last service

in the dead of midday heat
we hear not one cicada kiss

our pavement sizzles and
speaking to us from the pane

a tub of dish armor
suds up to our arms, and
wets our bellies
heads dizzy of pine and bleach

tall day flattens at evening
radio voices play behind cleaning
repetitive games of sticker boy
with loud screams of laughter

mommas permission
we run as fast as we can
before she changes her mind
gums flapping flour dust into creme sky

we took those stolen traditions back
wore those tragic colors
and distinguished our own
guardian of our crest
sworn duty to protect and shine
through musk and tears
under the painful beat of the sun
mind working like a machine

inhale, exhale. one step, holt, and pivot.

white and crimson
bathed in our intensity
oral traditions
bodies speaking in unison
teaching offspring
through the honor and respect
we expose to each other

it works like muscle memory
what oral history
can do to nervous system

adjusting to a world
north and south 

the same bodily trauma
and generations

and that hatred
that is pre-colonial
still stings
skin still punctured,        peeling

gentle with my skin
tender with your hugging
in step you flow

back and forth
breathing warmly behind my ear
i always hear that start to your grin
the parting to your lips

i am always concerned
always with my guard up
cautioning whatever is left open for judgement

i shake from being this open
this abandoned
i chill
you welcome me in

fluorescent against white walls,   kanekalon braids,        single file   practicing hand games,   protected by wired fence

warm                                       lint

gravel                                     crush 

in grown                                 antlers, 

threatened by  tweed,             
                                         and bush,

like the angry larva, 

                          growling in my tummy

butterflies hatch,          murmuring hymns

Shuriya Davis was the 2018 Andrew W. Mellon Summer Intern in School and Teacher Programs. They are a 2018 graduate of RISD’s Painting program.