THREE POEMS by Arisa White

Last bath

–for Jamar

The bubbles die and there is a different life ahead of us.

The once-continent turns to islands; fish schools close to our bellies.

Seeing under water is a collision on my eyes.

It takes out my braids, turns cold because I didn’t want it like seaweed.

You turn the shower on, and there’s no point worrying.

We drown in a storm of beads. Impatient beads

that don’t hold still for threading and sharks come at the wrong time.

I’m past pruning but still must save my tail.

It’s our monkey-bar talent that saves us or whatever

keeps the curtain rod in the wall.

How are you?

I’m good. My armpits are caving in, though.

Laughter splits us.

We agree eating chocolate ice cream is cannibalistic,

my teacher has shoes older than me,

and your Mr. Bergamen lets anger devil his face.

I pray to god he won’t be my fourth grade teacher.

What would granny say, us using her panties for parachutes?

Lets land somewhere where

we are lost and found,

new water and argyle mitten,

a map from day to day.

From many shells we crawl,

no porcelain tub fills with crashes,

we whistle from every jar,

scrap a moment with shine and ditties.

I smell you, we are that close—

how granny say—

like those good times when I was your age.


An albatross to us both

Coney Island, Brooklyn: 1992. Known as “The Storm from Hell.” A northeaster with hurricane-force winds submerges New York City in 4ft of water.

against this we hold our bodies taut

we wear each other like amulets
against come what, come may

we don’t muster a hush

our percussive living disruptive
to each sound the waves carry

when they are soundless we worry

Ibert finds twenty dollars beneath the boardwalk.
we are locked out. our mother too busy to make keys.
we stuck until evening to roam the hallway and beach.

we curse her for forgetting over French fries and franks—
there is wind and ocean to listen to. this is not calm.
it is her voice replaced when it comes no more in the dark.

you can see their circles
stretched or condensed

its movement leads
back to itself over itself

I tell my brother
when you trace too hard
you leave grooves in the looseleaf

we do not sleep tonight

mother and him are making circles
she more so than he
will bear the imprint of his rings

we tell each other the best rides
are the ones that go ’round.

we are turning the ferris wheel with our marathon

the amusement parked down the street is closed

the winter leaves the freaks unemployed

prostitutes stand between the arcade and Nathan’s

the awnings keep them from rain

run, she says. run we do

this gray day shades her bruises

if you run with me, I promise this will change

we ferry over the Hudson

she runs with this

we run for a dawn-dusted lie

Swelling the streets since morning, the Atlantic bullies the curbs.

Where are you?

The bus cannot drive through these rivers, I tread the avenues
to the apartment we left days ago.

In its room, I return to find not you. From the door ajar,

I call between wind and water, adrift. If this
remained home, we would be eating ramen in school uniforms.

This storm’s an albatross to us both.

Coney Island drowns

open-mouthed clowns

not quick to bust their balloons.

Heavy with the silk of this sea,
out of this Hurrah’s nest, my legs oar. The temper

of these clouds cannot knife our anti-gallican hitch.

The subway predicts me something:


a neon buoy in the ill-lit Stillwell,
waiting for the water to bring me in.



Definitely in the kitchen and always within arms reach,
the gulf. Not a thing a single person is doing except
watching the world shut down in us. Watching the bus
go by, that special kid hugging those two girls—
he wants you to be his friend; that bus driver kicked
him off and it’s not fair to have the gulf in that holler.

For all the times I was told not to stir water with a knife,
I now understand: you can’t wound what you drink.
Look me in the eye on this cheers, what’s the point
of looking back on life if there’s no in-the-tub shot?

We have nothing to worry about. It’s true my arms tired
of playing hand games. Still, my focus pure, I made snow
angels in it. There was a point when our hands didn’t meet
and rhythm was thrown—we stopped applauding ourselves
and started over again. It was its own working clock;
we expected impermanence but fought it every time.

There’s a point when bystanders know you’re good,
they forgive small disruptions in sound—we slid by.
The game is seen the way it’s supposed to be seen,
but I know something more troubles your core.


ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow and holds a MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is author of the chapbook Disposition for Shininess. She has received residencies, fellowships, and/or scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, University of Western Michigan, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’s Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and is featured on the CD WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet. She currently lives in Oakland, CA.

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