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by Ra Malika Imhotep


by Ra Malika Imhotep


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This harvest of poems is inspired by the plant medicine latent in Gossypium Herbeceum, or Cotton Root Bark, which was used by enslaved Black women to induce labor, cure reproductive ailments and end unwanted pregnancies. Through an arrangement of stories, secrets and memories experienced, read, heard, reimagined and remixed, gossypiin reckons with a peculiar yet commonplace inheritance of violation, survival and self-possession. In this way, Ra Malika Imhotep invites us to lean in and listen good as the text interrupts the narrative silence around sexual harm, sickness, and the marks they make on black femme subjectivity.

Within these pages, the poet is joined by a “sticky trickster-self” named Lil Cotton Flower who tells of their own origins and endings in the Black vernacular traditions of the griot and the gossip. Interspersed throughout the collection, Black feminist wisdoms and warnings meld with the poets own yearnings and Lil Cotton Flower’s tall tales.

Gossypiin is an offering towards the holding and healing of Black beings that exceed the confines of their own bodies.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781636280257
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication date: 04/12/2022
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 1,198,069
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Ra Malika Imhotep is a Black feminist writer and performance artist from Atlanta, Georgia. As a scholar and cultural worker, Ra Malika is invested in exploring relationships between queer articulations of Black femininity, Southern vernacular culture, and the performance of labor. As a steward of Black Studies and Black feminist thought, Ra Malika dreams, organizes, and facilitates spaces of critical reflection and embodied spiritual-political education. Ra Malika resides in Oakland, California.

Read an Excerpt

Gossypium herbeceum

Official use: the root bark of this plant was officially recognized in the USP from 1863–1916 for its effects on the uterine organs. In the nineteenth century the active principle was called “gossypiin.”

Other Afro-American Use: “In 1840 a French writer, Bouchelle, reported that the root bark of cotton was widely used by Negro slaves in America to induce abortion. According to Johns U. Lloyd, “the credit for the discovery of its uses [as an abortifacient] must be given to the Negroes of the South.”

—Faith Mitchell, Hoodoo Medicine: Gullah Herbal Remedies


And so, they must’ve plunged hands deep beneath the field, gently undoing the crop to coax it out of its medicine.

And so, they must’ve taken it, gingerly in their hands, tucked into waistbands, smuggled into kitchens where it became powder and poultice and tea.

And so, they must’ve made place for that which was cast out, a plot to catch their waters: tears, spit, blood and indignation.

And so, they must’ve gotten familiar with the inside parts, the space between, before and after invasion.

And so, they must’ve returned somewhere, dreamt of another place, found themselves on new altars in spaces kin they could only imagine would call home.

Table of Contents

Gossypium herbaceum 17

What We Gathered Here to Do 19


My daddy says I've misremembered 27

Copresence II 28

_'s Rape 29

Ma Dear 30

Lil Cotton Flower births themself out of the forced togetherness of a quiet wound 31

Obscure Origins 2: The Player 32

Obscure Origins 1: The Sculptor 33

Lil Cotton Flower sings / them self a song 34


The first time I heard the story 37

After mama sighs 38

Exile in pursuit of the New South 39

Grandma Sarah's maiden name was Moody 40

Wild Wimmin Don't Worry 41

My mother dreams 42

Grandma Sarah ain't finish the seventh grade 43

Earth bound 44

A Question of Attunement 46


I ain't know when I laid down on the floor crying 51

Endurance 52

The hermit-woman takes a lover 53

Some nights talking to god 54

"Somebody forgot to tell somebody something" 55

Amenorrhea 56

Anovulatory or fugitivity at the meeting place of my thighs 58

The poet stares longingly into a black queer elsewhere and feels themself unravel 60

Madrigal para las vientres negras 62

Notes toward the integration of a traumatic event or the scene of my own subjection 63

Miss Graham tells my younger self a blue joke 66

Mammy-made potion 68


Da Peach Squad 71

One of Four Women Walking Down Peachtree Street Licking Herself 74

Lil Cotton Flower Tells a Story 77

Mammy Councils Her Kin 81

Home is a mouth full of spit for your tender heart 84


My mama tells a story 91

Second Trimester 92

Grandma Sarah mourns her only son 93

Copresence I 94

Grief-borne power 95

When prompted I remember 96

Overstimulated 97

Dispatch from a writing workshop in 2015 in which I am the only nigga alive 98

All the blk things cry sometimes 100

Copresence IV 102

This ain't quite memorial 103

Rememory 104

Lil Cotton Flower's First Will and Testament 106

Credits 111

Gratitude 113

Chorus 116

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