Black Lawrence Press
August 7, 2015

Welcome, Cynthia Manick!

Manick Photo by Rissberger

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Cynthia Manick, whose poetry collection Blue Hallelujahs was accepted in April and will be released next summer. 

About the Author

A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, Cynthia Manick has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the Vermont Studio Center. She serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing and was a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, St. Ann’s Review, and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Photographer Credit: Sue Rissberger

Excerpt

What Lies Beneath

Today I am elbow deep
in some animal’s belly

pulling out the heart and stomach
for my mother’s table.

Brown rubber soles blood slicked,
the swing of twin blades

cuts a whole village worth of pelts,
coon, carved bones for ladies

jewelry and coats. These hands
can ground down rock and gold

call a man sweet dusty, mold
knots of spit and hair like clay

until a baby’s head is perfectly round.
These hands are good for killing—

I feel this knowing rise
like different names for fire.

Every bone has a ghost–
the smallest, a stirrup in the ear

whispers walk carefully there
you come from a dark tribe.
Revolution Staccato in B

One thousand saxophones infiltrate the city,
……….two by two and each with a pulse of its own.

Some have bodies big as elephant ears
……….and heavy-lipped missiles shoot from their pitch.

Others take the long way down.
……….Sopranos drop octaves along the banks,

making concave grooves settle into the click
………. of thigh bones and cypress knees.

They leave behind G scales in the grass,
……….mounds full of girls mouthing yes yes.

The altos want to turn New Orleans red
……….play Summertime in the streets,

have it gulp into bellies like ribs swathed
……….in barbeque, liberate bodies from inside out.

They all want night to end full, to riff reeds
……….on every corner, every concert hall,

have it settle like gold dust from clit to clavicle.
……….Watch them turn the city into a panama of sound,

a house of blues, until it swells like an open mouth
……….and babies are scatting in their sleep.

 

Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand
        after Carrie Mae Weems Kitchen Table Series

In the right light I’m beautiful.

Covered in flour and paprika
balled cubes of meat,
you can still see patterns
fault lines in the palm center;

the first throw of jacks
and rocks when I was six,
golden frogs that bleed
and bleep so high;

a body twirl in Sunday’s best
colored swan lake
smoothed gloves in church peach;

the steam of the hot comb
the weight of it
cause nappy heads can’t hold
cherry barrettes or the sound
of light-skinned caramel boys;

grandmothers words–
you have to pull flesh
from the throat not the belly,
you are two kins away
 
from pulled cotton,
don’t waste any part of the pig
stir hog soup when cold comes;
 
the cool wash of river
on stiff limbs when death came, settled
her like a nesting doll;

all was changed with corn whiskey
out of fruit jars, and fingers
trailing the land of bodies
twice-licked;

Christ is amazed
with taffy babies
those shriveled sweet things–
with vein-rich palms of their own.

In the kitchen I’m beautiful.

Garlic and onion shines brown
in the light, and fistfuls of mackerel
cover nails at the seams–

it tempers a woman
cause the muscle knows
how to wield a knife
and hold close salted migrations.

 

On Writing the Book

Foxfire Cabin

I completed a writing residency in a cabin in Rabun Gap, Georgia. The cabin was called Foxfire and it was the total opposite of Brooklyn, New York. There were no street lights and no cell service. The cabin had a fireplace, a porch, a deck, and orange jackets just in case I wanted to go hiking, so the hunters wouldn’t mistake me for deer. So I didn’t hike. Instead a played a lot of music (loudly with no neighbors to complain) and placed poems all over the living room floor. I put lines from poems on bulletin boards. I read Lucille Clifton to enrich the mind and cheesy romance novels to give my mind a break. In the cabin is where the book took shape. As poems covered the floor I started to ask how are these poems talking to each other? If this book was a playlist, what journey would a listener take? So I cut pages that didn’t resonate and wrote new poems in a cabin in the middle of the woods.

I knew the book had a shape when I wrote the poem “Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand.” I started thinking about what the hands physically experience and how there is a language to bodies. I thought of ink on skin, home, memory married to songs, orange rinds and peaches under fingernails, and if you’re breathing, what makes you dead or alive? It was a gradual light bulb moment and I think we all have those.