person Cynthia Manick, five poems

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, the MacDowell Colony, Poets House, and the Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts among others. A winner of the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry, her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day Series, Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), Muzzle Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York


In My Heaven
after RC Lewis

Everything begins with
hunger. Some crave Bartlett
pears, trees that breathe,
playing violin on gold roads.

Others only answer to their
animal names, knowing
which heart chamber calls

to the wolf, the sheep,
the jackal. In my heaven
the currency is words–
people sing or recite

verb to noun to buy
burgers and cake, furniture
like wide screen TVs

that show favorite programs
on loop with no commercials-
Soul Train, I Dream of Jeanie,
and Happy Days.

Each corner of heaven
is guarded by statues
of poets. They hold pens

as spears. When you rub
their stoned feet, you hear
dialects-dipped in Marian
Anderson arias.

In my heaven Ms. Rose
plays the numbers
and hits every week.

Our shadows talk to other
shadows, have smoke-shaped
tea or whiskey at noon.
They visit bonfires

to show their best forms
in the light. When you turn
18, 35 or 68 in my heaven,

you lay on a bed of tobacco
and ivy leaves, and the stems
shelter as you watch stars
fade into each other.


To the Lady Who Tapped My Shoulder at Lincoln Center

words are something large

they push up against the wall
of oneself
like tiny ballerinas

as you speak them
they settle in roots

of my braids   pores   the bed
of unpainted nails

the rumble vibrates three
floors down
and a train shakes

or was that my head?

I try hard not to honor
anger but this is hard

this page a place
                for its keeping

I step from my shadow
                chains of skin

roam the universe til even
form against you


No Graveside Flowers

I want to dress you solely in memories-
wrap your body in movie lines
pull out those sounds of Leroy and the Last Dragon
“when I say who’s the master?!
You say Sho’nuff”
or your guilty pleasure of watching
Bewitched or Charmed cause
who wouldn’t want
to be a witch or warlock if asked.

I’m no witch but the child in me
wants to wash your skin
with Dove soap and keep you covered
in my pocket.

I know Mom wants you in a suit,
pressed and ready for God-
but I brought your favorites—
a buckle with the silver dragon
and your Tootsie Pop shirt that asks
“how many licks does it take . . .”

Respectful people would lay
roses or some other white carnation
over your heart
like a false blessing
pulling you pure and clean
but I promise to bring you a sparkly Michael
Jackson glove, rolls of Charleston Chews,
and chic-o-sticks.

Instead of the Baptist lament “eye on the sparrow”
with arms falling out, splayed mouths
of loved ones, I’ll make it a party
and have a DJ spin all your classic hits.

I know I haven’t dressed your feet yet,
boots, dress shoes, sneakers – I still can’t
decide brother. Can we just sit here awhile?
Sit here until I figure it out?


Dear Sunflowers Who Congregate Without a Permit

20 to 30 is too large a number to gather
without air conditioning. Fifteen of you
dazzle, others bow their heads, too burdened,
too rough, with no yellow-gold to be found.
Their children collapse to the ground as if
they could never get warm enough and
an earth social worker is removing them
from their care. I want to curl in a leaf like
an Anne Geddes photograph. But those babies
must be propped or photoshopped because
nothing alive can be that lovely, not even us.
I’m supposed to be writing about nature but–
a little boy sings upside down, boy you turn me
the bees are a Greek tragedy waiting to happen
and this bird reminds me of a Jamaican cab driver
yelling out Flatbush Flatbush Utica next stop.
I’m sorry for not singing enough, and making
salmon patties in your favorite pan when I know
you hate fish. Some apologies sound like
the word home. Can’t you hear my hunger,
bright as this gang of flowers?


Seeking Language for Peaches or Joy

Should you find me
falling into the earth,
don’t be alarmed—
it’s just my spine
trying to climb
back into peach vines
or the nearest brown womb.

Some know the first taste
of home-grown peaches, Nina
Simone’s Peaches,
and how freedom
is just a feeling but
I felt that once—
that day at Coney Island

where my fathers’ truck driver
pockets held bruised
peaches, brown spotted
like the inside cover
of a matchbook.

We sat after skee-ball
with my chin sweet,
his hands holding
a small orange giraffe.
I even sucked on the pit–

bitter and shaped like a birds’
heart. But it was mine,
like my father was mine,
and that day was ours.


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