Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem Fellow, Bianca Spriggs, is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky. Currently a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, she holds degrees from Transylvania University and the University of Wisconsin. Named as one of the Top 30 Performance Poets by TheRoot.com, Bianca is a recipient of both an Artist Enrichment Grant and an Arts Meets Activism Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. In partnership with the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, she is the creator of "The Swallowtail Project" a creative writing workshop dedicated to the women inmates at the Federal Prison Camp, and the creator and Artistic Director of the Gypsy Poetry Slam featured annually at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Her poetry collections are Kaffir Lily and How Swallowtails Become Dragons.
DAUGHTER OF NUWA*
Half of a Thamnophis sirtalis lays pale belly up
on the sidewalk in front of my home—no head
or throat anywhere in the grass or on the asphalt.
Is this what’s left of the same slidebody I saw
before our lawn was cut by men my landlady hired?
(They’d sheared a serrated path with edge trimmers
through the weeds and grass alike, sparing no vegetation
its bloom.) I recall the feverish stoop, sweat pooling
in an ear, spilling over the lobe. And then, movement.
It was her, winding her ribboned muscular length over mulch,
no fence, no glass slick between us. She had been so careful,
summoned by fingers of warmth from beneath a canopy
of indifferent earth—a formal invitation to warm her blood—
she looked away and back, away and back, tongue taking
into account this lone patch of woman. Below the sky,
too far gone about its business of cascading into cloud
and roof and slithering down bark to notice either of us,
she had stretched out fully into the yard, without fear, into the sun.
(*Nüwa is best known as the Chinese deity responsible for creating people. She is most often depicted as having the head of a woman and the body of a serpent.)
The woman next door says she don’t
have to ask if it was me or him
rearranging the furniture last night.
Don’t take that much to grow
a man the way you want him.
She tells me how all a woman
has to do to snag her the right man
or cure one from being a terror,
was to scare up some nightshade.
She says it used to be simpler
when the world was simpler.
Used to be in the South, you could
find it just about anywhere on account
of how liberal the law was with hanging men.
You’d look for the mandrake right where
he’d been hung and spasmed the last
of his seed into the earth.
But, she doesn’t say spasmed his seed.
She says something else which means
having an orgasm as you die.
You had to harvest the plant before dawn
on a Friday and you’d sometimes
get a four-foot root already bulging
into a homunculus.
But she doesn’t say homunculus.
She uses a racial slur.
Then they’d want feeding.
Blood from a fresh cut.
Eventually that little thing would come
to life, start moving around, wail
like an infant if it didn’t have its food.
When it got adolescent-old
you’d slit its throatroot
because it’s just a plant after all.
Dry it out.
Grind it down.
Serve it in tea to the man
you’re wanting to do right and that was that.
What do you do now, I want to know,
if you don’t have a mandrake?
She says, Find someone who do.
I know where a whole mess of ‘em grow.
I WOULD MAKE A GOOD OWL
The owl looked up to the stars above and sang to a small guitar—Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat
If I could choose, I would be Tyto alba.
The Barn Owl.
I like the look of her face.
I think I could live in a tree.
A high, sweet pine.
Or in some cave nook.
Plenty of bats.
Instead of arms, I imagine gilded wings
spread across a charcoal night.
Given the right nature,
I could kill
small, nesting, furred things,
picking their warm, trembling bodies off,
my fleshy talons holding them
with hundreds of times the grip
of the strongest man alive.
Each night, I would hunt, quiet as the moon,
returning to cough up collapsed bones
and pelts damp with digestion
into the mouths of my owlets.
I would be a good owl,
make my way through this world
on a song sung to stars.
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