Erica Dawson

If My Baby Girl Is White

             only white,
             hair a flutter of
             fall leaves
                           —Lucille Clifton

Mama says, What? goes outside and splits oak.
She brings the rope, chainsaw, and spikes—ties off
A limb. She takes the black tree down. The trunk
Breeds red heart rot.

                                It’s too easy to say
It bleeds. Inside, the ombre fades from bark
To tan to thin white threads. Branches die-back.
The wood spews conk.  The kindling leaves dark ash.

As unsound as a forest is, someone
Must slip and feel it. Someone sticks the dead.
The lightning bugs thud in their Smucker’s jars.
Some mother, at the screen, must call, Light’s out.

Erica Dawson’s second collection of poems, The Small Blades Hurt, is forthcoming from Measure Press. Her first book, Big-Eyed Afraid, won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. She’s an assistant professor at University of Tampa, where she teaches in both the undergraduate program and the low-residency MFA program.
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