Maisha Z. Johnson


from the chapbook SPLIT EARS (September 2013)

From My Own Mouth

i’m trying to make up a story for this kid,

thinking it’ll be easy,

thinking i’m not going to be one to tell her

some tired, old tale about a distressed damsel

who’s ripping at the seams until a prince

comes to stitch her up, because she’ll find out

soon enough that it’s her who’s got to do

her own stitching up,

when the rabbit dashes by for the first time.

he’s so quick, he seems spun of silver thread,

light glancing off his haunches as he passes.

the kid’s too busy to see anything

except my hands waving, sculpting

the story from air. she’s pressing me for details—

such rapid requests she makes—so i wheeze them out,

tell her, the queen’s traveling on a horse,

so she asks, what kind of horse?

tell her, a brown horse,

so she asks, but what size?

tell her, a big, big horse,

so she asks, but what shape?

and i’m wondering if there’s any other shape

besides a horse-like shape,

start to describe the animal in ovals.

soon, i might pause to hear how silly i sound,

but i see the rabbit first.

this time, not in glimmers of light,

but in shimmering shadow.

the plaits of his fur etch his outline like cracks in paint,

and his grimace might be a smile,

since he chuckles with the thick rasp of a cough.

the kid’s still looking at me.

my hands land on her shoulders,

and i turn her to see him.

she’s not mine, but i’ve seen how parents do.

i lean down, nuzzle her afro with my chin, and point.

look! who’s that?


it’s Br’er Rabbit, she says,

and she says it without a flinch,

so my muscles recoil for her.

this creature, Br’er Rabbit?

perhaps he could be, only he has no plum nose,

like i recall, and he has no oval eyes,

and in place of his joy-kissed round mouth,

he’s got a hole, lined with broken teeth

and always open, as if an explosion

burst through him after silence slept too long.

from my own mouth, details fall,

about a black queen

with hair as puffy as dandelions,

and tree trunk-sturdy thighs urging forward

a bronze horse the shape of thunder clouds.

now, she can see what i’m talking about.

under the watch of the rabbit’s haunting eyes,

the kid’s questions are clear – she wants

me to unleash the sounds of all the shapes,

before somebody hushes them up.