Three Poems by Ciona Rouse
Ride or Die
Haints rode my great-grandmother's back. My mother
says she never feared them. This gall in our blood: We
all know our ghosts go with us. An overseer rode
my great-grandmother's mother's back. When the police ride
close enough behind me to recognize last year’s numbers
on my tags, I would rather have a hag jump on me.
Twist my diaphragm with her long bone fingers.
It would be easier to breathe. My mother rode unicorns,
bare-backed, unquestioning. We all know our dreams
go with us. In a dream I rode a fire engine in a parade and waved
at my ex in the crowd. I laughed in the morning. Everyone wants
to look red hot riding away from an ex no matter how much
of a memory he is. Turns out he had cancer. I forgot the sirens.
And the rush. I forgot it was too fast and loud for a parade.
I drive a MINI Cooper, and a stranger at the Shell station
said it is obviously made for me. He’s correct without knowing.
My ride fits me perfectly. I prayed for saints to ride my back
back when I prayed. And even today, I say my aunt’s name
and look for certain winged things to land on my branches.
My mother called her sister her ride or die. My mother: still riding.
I tried to ride the bus in my city. Nashville prefers you
to have your own perfect
wheels. We all know our wealth goes with us. Our wants go with us.
Our needs in front of us driving away. Screeching, turning
the pavement black. Some billionaires ride a rocket
into space just to return minutes later. We all know who
really goes with us. Who really goes for us.
This, we all know.
Interrogation of the Poplar
What do you dream?
I dream a buffet of rain
seeds frolicking into the wind
my leaves pulse
slick breath into your lungs
I dream a sapling
a whittle too dull
the tongue of a saw
swallowing all of its teeth
a hammer unhinged
an ax defying gravity
I dream a frayed rope
a frayed rope unraveling
a rope afraid
of the rebels reveling
unknotting itself or me
stretching a limb into an arm
into a hand
I dream I lift
I pulse breath
wet & wondrous
into your lungs
Interrogation of the Poplar
What do you recall of that night?
a boiling ocean, the air
an unbelonging heft never leaving
a child played ring around the rosie
just days before, giggled against my spine
the pines bowed, mud dispersed
magnolias sang a willow’s song
time whispered swift
he went up
we all fell down
Ciona Rouse is the author of the chapbook Vantablack (Third Man Books, 2017). Her poetry has appeared in Oxford American, NPR Music, The Account, Talking River, Gabby Journal, and other publications. She is poetry editor of Wordpeace and the curator of several reading series in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives and teaches. She is working on her first full collection of poetry and several literary collaborations, including poems written for and displayed with the Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick exhibition for the Frist Museum (July 23–Oct 10, 2021), an exhibit which Rouse co-curated.