Two Poems by Yona Harvey

GINGIVITIS, NOTES ON FEAR I hesitate invoking that      doubled emptiness: open— my daughter’s mouth      in the bathroom mirror— not her first vanity      but first blood inkling she tastes & smoothes      with her tongue.



I hesitate invoking that                     doubled emptiness: open—
my daughter’s mouth                        in the bathroom mirror—
not her first vanity                             but first blood inkling
she tastes & smoothes                        with her tongue. She turns
her chin this way & that,                   anticipating her future: new
bones replacing the fallen.                 If the body survives,
it repairs itself: two                             pillars—wider, stronger
  forming new words:                            adolescent declarations
     brushing past                                          seasoned gums


What is the tongue-                           span
between trauma &                             terror?
Incident &                                          accident?


 Think                                                 on these things.


 There is so much to fear.                 How will we fear it all?


 & now my second-born,                  my son:            If I don’t


 brush, he says,                                  a disease will attack my gums.


When God says, “Meet me tomorrow
at the corner of Seventh Day & Salvation
just as the sun before nightfall strikes
the fender of a red hatchback parked
outside Worldwide Washateria,” you

wait there
fitted in a dress the color of cloud-cover
& hold a feathered hat
to your delicate hair, newly picked &
haloed with a small brim. &

like a fleck of Antique Black in a gallon
of European White, you make everything

around you
like itself, which means you

eloquently than the lampposts
boasting their specters of light,

or the woman
clutching her daughter’s shirt
above a basket, the sedative twilight
of the gods trapped momentarily

in the pane, which separate
the woman
& you

steadfast against the wind picking up,
the men desiring your attention,
the traffic held
in the ceaseless straight ahead.

Concrete barriers, a few
lopsided cones, abiding
highway hieroglyphs
are all that separate
onward & stalled, here & gone.

Not even this poem
can move you, or change

the motion of your scarf—
that furious red flag—
or the stilts—your legs.
Your lips

don’t move—you
do not mutter or
complain or ask directions.

Why don’t you?
Your autograph haunts
the covers of books
across town:

I know who I am I know who I am I know who I am

Black-winged bird,
you’ve become
lyrics layering air:

Describe the sound of His voice.

To walk the black, wired bars

is to follow a sound

                     so peculiar you

                     hardly notice

                     the ink gone out.

                     2- 3- 1- 2- 3- 1- 2- 3- 1-

                     Your stilts on the ground.

From Hemming the Water (c) 2013 by Yona Harvey.
Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.




Channeling the collection’s muse—jazz composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams—Hemming the Water speaks to the futility of trying to mend or straighten a life that is constantly changing. Here the spiritual and the secular comingle in a “Fierce fragmentation, lonely tune.” Often mimicking fairy tales or ancient fables, Yona Harvey inhabits, challenges, and explores the many facets of the female self—as daughter, mother, sister, wife, and artist—both on a personal level (“To describe my body walking I must go back / to my mother’s body walking”) and on a cultural level (“A woman weighs the price of beauty—”).

Read more at Four Way Books





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About Yona Harvey

Yona Harvey
Yona Harvey is a literary artist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the poetry collection, Hemming the Water (Four Way Books, 2013), and the recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation. Her poems can be found in jubilat, Gulf Coast, Callaloo, West Branch, and various other journals and anthologies, including A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (Ed. Annie Finch). She lives not far from where jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams grew up. Williams married the spiritual to the secular in her music, and is a regular muse in Yona’s writing. In addition to her undergraduate and graduate degrees in English from Howard University (BA) and The Ohio State University (MFA), she also earned a Master of Library and Information Science degree from The University of Pittsburgh. She is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Pittsburgh.