The World Is Round: Poems

Overview

The World Is Round, Nikky Finney’s third volume of poetry, collects the wisps of memory we carry with us throughout our earthly lives and weaves them into deft and nuanced poems that emphasize understanding the cycles of life. The settings offer a view into the kaleidoscope of human experience: the sweetness and shock of family life, the omnipresent wash of memory, and the ebullience of warm Southern air. The World Is Round carries with it an implicit challenge—to the author as a poet, and to the reader as a ...

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Overview

The World Is Round, Nikky Finney’s third volume of poetry, collects the wisps of memory we carry with us throughout our earthly lives and weaves them into deft and nuanced poems that emphasize understanding the cycles of life. The settings offer a view into the kaleidoscope of human experience: the sweetness and shock of family life, the omnipresent wash of memory, and the ebullience of warm Southern air. The World Is Round carries with it an implicit challenge—to the author as a poet, and to the reader as a fellow human—to see the characters and details and events of our lives with clarity, fearlessness, and love. The result is poems that range the gamut of human reach and resilience, fury and frailty. The poet’s vision of community requires understanding and tolerance from every breathing soul. Finney illuminates the cruelties of the sometimes gawking, narrow-minded world and makes a plea for compassion inspired by our common humanity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810152335
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2013
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 804,076
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Nikiky Finney holds the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair of Southern Letters and Creative Writing at the University of South Carolina. She is editor of the anthology The Ringing Ear: Black poets Lean South and the author of a short story collection, Heartwood. Her fourth collection of poetry, Head Off & Split, won the National Book Award for Poetry (Northwestern University Press, 2011).

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Read an Excerpt

THE WORLD IS ROUND

poems


By NIKKY FINNEY

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2013 Nikky Finney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-5233-5



CHAPTER 1

      The World Is Round: The Breast of
      the Garment Measured

    I began this side of life as infant photographer
    focusing with the moving middle eye, the round
    umbilical cord, where it melded into the body center
    like a vacuum sucking in the sights.

    Not with any eye but with skin did I see this,
    do I remember now, the skin can so remember.

    This picture that I first took of touch, here in the studio
    body of birth, first photograph of feeling, anchored by
    something other than the liquid albumen world where
    I had lived from the first.

    Something round, made of me and her and him.
    Something akin to one large ballooning finger, here,
    at the full lips of my belly's button where I could feel
    the warmth of food; milky brown thick sugar passing

    from her body's oven into my own whole-wheat capsule.
    Too quick and the vacuum cord yanked, tugged me yet
    another way and I twist-twirled around in my curved world,
    falling back asleep, genuflected by her soft snaking octopus

    arm. Only one hour old and I remember unlatching my eyes
    to see the tiny incubating opening where I'd already lived
    for a week, the warm stale air pouring in on me, not with my
    mind but with full body camera do I remember this.

    The perfect circular opening, round just like the cord,
    round like the camera's eye, that I would one day accidentally
    flutter inside, discovering silky stems of wildebeest poems
    growing, sour sweet filigree weeds.

    I always return to the glove of her body, the touch of her
    chord to my middle, my middle to her chord, that opening
    where I first fell in love with the breast of the garment, first
    recognized what fit, though I could not yet safely wear it down

    the daylight street. I can't show you any photographs of this
    to prove what I'm telling you is true. I am remembering
    this not with my mind but with my body, the body can so
    remember what long ago left the accidental scene of the eye.

A woman has to be a daughter before she can be any kind of a woman. If she doesn't have that in mind, if she doesn't know how to relate to her ancestors, to her tribe, she is not good for much.

—TONI MORRISON



      The Squatting Sun

    6:38, flying east, I witness birth,
    pushing out of the blushing vaginal rim

    like some wide cherry-dropped child.
    All the colors that make red have come

    to the only straight line on the earth.
    Ghostly, I blink, my eyes tweak her nipples,

    she releases and the head does not wait
    for my awe.

    I thought I knew what red looked like.
    Believed I had seen this daily drama before;

    the earth in morning-mother motion,
    the first bowl of earth-breath sipped,

    but never had I been asked
    inside the sun's womb so deep.

    What I see has so much to do
    with the permission to look.

    My egg-white eyes labor to midwife
    this moment out all the way.

    The baby day pushes clean,
    a quarter rim of cherry-spilled earth

    lands in a head-back wail
    inside my ladling pupils,

    the first rising brightness, its long
    equatorial head bursts, then crests;

    new life passed on
    to a pan of waiting salted water.


      Coda

    We are four to a bed So close our hips must come
    with hinges A ticking of brown family Thrown
    across the cotton and feather mattress of winter
    Tucked Deep inside the house my grandfather raised
    up from the red earth straight into the woolly air

    The black and white photograph isn't supposed
    to predict the future But my mother looks like my
    unborn brother And even at three I am different
    My tiny Black girl eyes are a queer shade of green
    At five my older brother stands there on the end
    Already buttoned into my father's sense of place

    We are so close in this cherry bed Our lightly
    touching hips must surely be hinged Even the
    children have them Daddy has moved into place
    next to Mama Mama has moved in next to me
    I am the only one awake The only one with a wall
    The whole house has fallen The movie begins

    Uncle Billy is just home from Vietnam He is the
    baby In the ruddy speckled flicker he stands before
    us with a new camera that the war bought him I call
    Uncle Billy The Bonneville Man Just like Pop Leo
    he can fix anything Unlike him He will only drive
    a car if it's long and pretty

    Thirty years later The Bonneville Man will die with
    AIDS Alone in another bed without hinges A dozen
    headlights polka dot the night screen wall Every long
    pretty car he ever owned drives by to pay its last
    respects He snaps the picture of us all Horns blow
    out in a scatter like blue Cadillac whales

    We are a charm bracelet of a family bedding down for
    the night We are in the outback of my mother's
    country We have been laid flat for the sake of photography
    The elder aborigines bump room-to-rafter watching us
    amazed They whisper how much we resemble
    early black-and-white TV.

    By midnight more of us have joined more of us We
    lop around the old four poster in a three-dimensional
    ring like a Black family cutout doll We are joined
    at the hip inside the old home house We have been hinged
    together in a place pulled from the red ribs of ancient
    Indian land Newberry

    We are southern North American Africans When we
    sleep together the rubbing of our bones makes for
    a better crop Daddy's hip bone click-clacks into place
    next to mama And a new brother seven years ten pounds
    and eight ounces away from birth snuggles in next to me

    The new tenant brother takes up space I thought was
    all mine But Mama says not to move him She says
    he's the last one She says he will always need more
    of her The Silver Queen has already been harvested
    The second reel begins

    Somebody down the road passes a new baby over
    a new grave freshly packed with seashells The simmering
    dust is spinning off the blue corn silk The ochre wind
    patty-cakes the glass until dawn I know better than to sing
    along Mama would only turn and shush me Tell me
    to stop playing with myself

    This is why I always sleep by the wall For company
    So the movie will always have a screen So the screen
    will always have a witness Now all I have to do is live
    Big brother there on the end turns I follow Tumbling
    in an arc of bones Our hinges shift but never release
    My feet and body begin to rise I leave the floor without
    warning There is a white dog out in the woods howling

    Pop Leo will shoot the white dog between the eyes tomorrow
    then drag him back to the clearing near the arrowhead ground
    He will never explain to me what madness is And how we all
    can go I am the only one awake to see the end For twenty years
    something or someone will come and lift me to the ceiling and back
    whenever it wishes I will come to know this as brown girl levitation

    The black snakes are tunneling under the hay in the barn
    for warmth I see the mice go still in terror at the long
    dragon vessels nearing They are born knowing they can
    be swallowed whole Like them I have wondered how long
    it takes to die when you are eaten and made to watch

    I am counting Practicing my numbers At the cow trough
    that Pop built fifty years ago with heavy two-handed
    pieces of limestone The spigot is dripping nineteen drops
    per minute Eleven Twelve Fifteen I work hard on learning
    my numbers in case there is ever a test The water drips all
    night Even though I used two hands to shut it off like I was told

    Except for the howling of something white farther off
    in the woods that has lost someone it resembles I am
    attached at the waist to my brothers by my mother
    but I know I am free to fly I am a lee little long legged girl
    A southern mixture of red velvet rice and everything nice
    I have no memory of winter as a child

    A peacock is still something I have never seen before
    But in two hours over breakfast Aunt Willa will lie
    and say she has Her sapphire words will glitter
    like a tickling rain rolling off the curly tin roof of the barn
    where Mama used to dry apples as a child I will see
    Aunt Willa's saucy words leave her mouth and hit
    the frying air like that of a howling dog or a torpedoing snake

    I will remember last spring at the county fair When
    Aunt Willa slithered toward us waving her turquoise
    green tongue like a fan of exotic feathers I do not
    remember Daddy snoring back when we slept in this
    warm ring of soft brown bones Only now do I understand
    that my random levitations and landings had everything to
    do with four little girls from Birmingham and a bomb

    The all-night rubbing of bones has turned the inside
    tips of my fingers alabaster The homemade cotton sheets
    have been dusted on both sides with self-rising flour
    I need help hearing the many broken whispers coming
    through the walls up from the land The dead skin
    of my grandfather dropped for years into this dirt
    like drum and bugle seed Back then I believed bombs
    came wrapped in Black churches

    I always wanted a sister Another girl to remember
    the land Another girl to help rewind the film back
    onto the reel Like shelves of brown Britannica
    Pop Leo's arms always knew the answer to everything
    No visible timepieces were ever kept in this house
    that he built and she made So we would never think
    of leaving

    Any minute I will smell her perfect fig biscuits being
    pulled from the wood burning stove He will pour
    his black coffee out his cup and into his saucer He will
    drop his full Cherokee lips to the cool of the rim He
    will tilt himself back into a sip so long it will seem to pray
    As the baby light comes inviting the day I will hear him
    wishing his throat was a mile long Finally I am falling asleep

    I am the only girl I know the hinges we have worn
    all night made of soft shell salmon bones will fall away
    at the first shock of light I know when the red rooster
    finally steps it will be like High John the Conqueror
    into the morning broom-swept yard

    Only then Will we unhook as a mule team from
    the gingerbread night Only then will we one by one
    make our way into the icebox bathroom Only then
    in the face bowl will our image appear Only then
    will we wash our privates by ourselves


      The New Medicine

      Evening

    I go home just to touch them.

    Rent a car that is newer than my own
    for the long drive there,
    to be sure I arrive without delay.

    First the purple Tennessee mountains
    blur the wide hips of the windshield,
    then the blue tar-heeled air
    pours a southern smelling salt across my skin.

    On the pedal my foot feels relentless,
    I take the eight hours in one bite.
    Before long the fat five hundred miles
    eat all the sun out of the sky.

    I am left a mere daughter
    driving on sheer blacktop desire
    to put my hands on them again.

    That night I slump,
    in a mother-daughter nest of repose,
    repossessed once again
    on her loud flowery couch.

    My long fingers, delirious, spread,
    lost in between her bare brown feet;
    that underneath are sleeping jellyfish,
    on top, squirming fiddler crabs.

    She talks and I stare, the garden
    of tiny lines around her mouth,
    new rows, new rosebuds, in but a month.

    I finger every bunion I can find,
    lingering pumpkin prayers in between
    the smooth hollows of a foot
    belonging to us both.

    I never drive home to see them,
    never arrive anxious to twist toward
    their echoing laughter,
    I travel mile after mile just to touch them.


      Morning

    I could find him in my sleep if I had to
    but I only have to push the screen
    to enter my father's morning territory.

    One tiny acre of back porch land
    where he always sits in the last
    of the earth's night melanin.

    He and his companion cigarettes have spent
    fifty years of mornings together,
    his sweet morning raspiness as predictable
    as Sunday morning salmon and grits.

    My fingers move like a honeyed light
    for the back of his head. I move in behind his chair,
    reach-drape my arms across his chest.
    Bending, I berth his cheek with mine.

    Our father-daughter chin hairs
    yin yang graze, like two of the same kind
    of cat. My hands fold, braid out across his chest,
    in an old sweetgrass weave, that if unraveled
    would spill the story: how we own each other's heart.

    I lean back into the wall, one hand falls down loose
    across his neck bone, the other takes to his jaw and
    stays, rubbing his prickly chin there until the sun
    brilliantly permissions me to go.


      Twilight

    I go home just to touch them.

    Their black crystal lives genie rub against me,
    polishing. Long before reports appeared of touch
    being the new medicine of the new millennium.

    Before touch suddenly became in and all the rage,
    moving in beside echinacea and New Age healing.
    Before they invested millions in New England clinical trials,
    needing to study it all up close.

    Before handing puppies to prisoners as salvation
    and kittens to old folks in nursing homes. Before telephone
    commercials sold everyone on the many intrinsic benefits
    of it and long distance.

    By camel, bus, train, or foot; I traveled.
    My empty hands begging, breathless,
    twin compasses spinning before me
    for the unpanned gold of their skin.

    For the oldest brother's patty-cake back hug,
    for the youngest brother's full lip kiss,
    for my grandmother's forward bent body
    pushed snug into my waist.

    So snug, that days later, I find her still there.
    In the bog of the bathroom mirror, pushed tight,
    her silhouette still floating, still cameo-ed
    just above my navel.

    I never drive to see them. Never drive to
    listen, as they whisper, shout out my name.
    But I will do anything just to touch them.

    My hands, whenever they are near, renamed
    Cassiopeia, twin fraternal lanterns of every
    seafaring daughter, clothed in gauzy winding
    memory paper, she always pointing out to me
    the copper coordinates of wherever they may be.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from THE WORLD IS ROUND by NIKKY FINNEY. Copyright © 2013 Nikky Finney. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The world is round : the breast of the garment measured

— The squatting sun

— Coda

— The new medicine

 — Lobengula : her wall-bound child

— Mean Nina

— The running of the bulls

— Elephantine

— The undersea world of Jacques Cousteau

— Ain't too proud to beg

— Hurricane Beulah

— The greatest show on Earth

— Shark bite

— Sign language

— The new cotton

— The girlfriend's train

— Hate

— Easy bake

— Labor strike

— My old Kentucky home : where the darkies are gay

— Afro-Gregorian chant

— Frog legs

— Sex

— The turtle suite poems

— Metallurgy

— Assam

— A hero ain't nothing but a sandwich

— The making of paper

— Fishing among the learned

— Charm.

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