Poem: In Whose Image?

 In Culture, Feature
After Wangechi Mutu


Columbus mistakes manatees
for mermaids      and on this day in history
we mistake black women for sea cows      The swollen
midsections blown out of proportion      Born out of a
mistake      What have you mistaken at sea
for a grand illusion      A black Madonna
holding a white snake in brown suede
coat      its fangs like ivory horns      ornately piercing
each of her wind torn breasts      The pulp sifted into
open mouths like bellies of ships needing to be washed
out     When the blood leaves a stain the rain finds a holy
way to put us in our place      The hairs stand up on my
forearms like a sea urchin’s buzz cut      and my father has
been out to sea for days      But how can you be home
before dark when the body you call home is the darkness
itself      You should never trust a poem that ends with a
question      Never trust a daughter waiting at the window
for her father to come home      He will have seen things
at sea      Will have held a woman in his arms like water until
his breath was but a bubble floating upwards in the stained
glass      In the back of my mind a crucifix rests its neck against
the wall      trying to wrap its head around a serpent named
Eve      If I only knew me better      I would know I don’t know
nothin’ ‘bout nothin’ but cornfields and snow      Your knees
cannot keep your legs from drowning      The only ocean
I’ve ever known—the baptismal font on Sunday      Water
poured down on my straightened tresses and the hair on my
head curling into hissing snakes tangled in the priest’s shaky
hands      his jerking fingers a flicking tongue    When he
lifted me up from that water      pupils wide and white as milk
I don’t know who or what he thought he saw      Anything but
a mother of a God


Alison C. Rollins, born and raised in St. Louis city, currently works as the Librarian for Nerinx Hall. She is the second prize winner of the 2016 James H. Nash Poetry contest and a finalist for the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewMeridianMissouri ReviewThe OffingPoetryThe Poetry ReviewRiver StyxSolsticeTriQuarterlyTupelo QuarterlyVinyl, and elsewhere. A Cave Canem as well as Callaloo Fellow, she is also a 2016 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. This piece originally appeared in The Offing.
Photograph by Attilio D’Agostino.
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