Safiya Sinclair


2013 Poetry Contest Winner, judged by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Have I forgotten it—
wild conch-shell dialect,

black apostrophe curled
tight on my tongue?

Or how the Spanish built walls
of broken glass to keep me out

but the Doctor Bird kept chasing
and raking me in: This place

is your place, wreathed in red
Sargassum, ancient driftwood

nursed on the pensive sea.
The ramshackle altar I visited

often, packed full with fish-skull,
with bright lignum vitae plumes:

Father, I have asked so many miracles
of it. To be patient and forgiving,

to be remade for you in some
small wonder. And what a joy

to still believe in anything.
My diction now as straight

as my hair, that stranger we’ve
long stopped searching for.

But if somehow our half-sunken
hearts could answer, I would cup

my mouth in warm bowls
over the earth and kiss the wet dirt

of home, taste Bogue-mud
and one long orange peel for skin.

I’d open my ear for sugar cane
and long stalks of gungo peas

to climb in. I’d swim the sea
still lapsing in a soldered frame,

the sea that again and again
calls out my name.

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Catacombs, a chapbook of essays and poetry, published by Argos Books. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, The Cincinnati Review, Devil's Lake, The Atlas Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a writing fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Amy Clampitt Residency Award, an Emerging Writer Fellowship from Aspen Summer Words, and an Academy of American Poets Prize; she has won the 2013 Devil’s Lake Driftless Prize in Poetry and The Journal Annual Poetry Contest in 2013. She is currently pursuing a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California, where she is a Dornsife Doctoral Fellow.