Wednesday Jun 19

RainaLeon Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in The Holly Rose Review, Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly, The Osprey Journal, Verdad Magazine, The Sixers Review, The Externalist, Minglewood, The Cherry Blossom Review, Natural Bridge, African American Review, OCHO, Spindle Magazine, Black Arts Quarterly, Poem.Memoir.Story, Womb, Boxcar Poetry Review, Salt Hill Journal, Xavier Review, MiPoesias, Torch, Poetic Voices without Borders, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, AntiMuse, Farmhouse Magazine, Furnace Review, Constellation Magazine and Tiger's Eye Journal, among others. Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (2006) and is now available through Wordtech Communications. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She headed the High School Literacy Project at the University of North Carolina and is currently teaching Journalism and Spanish at an American high school in Germany.

All around, he's there
            "Wouldn't it be so much easier if all monsters were ugly?"
            Thanatos & Eros: The Birth of the Holy Freak by Karl Nussbaum

The boogeyman sinks through bogs, travels in crud-waters,
to pristine streams and mirror lakes where cows drink.

Milk, symbol for liquid purity, steals the senses.
Has the milkman come to your home today?

He's the boogeyman set to thieving your children.
Outside they are playing on spring green grass.

You call them in for milk and cookies, already lost.
The shells will return to play outside, but soon enough

the girls are developing breasts at eight - the boogeyman
knows all about booby traps - and the boys are growing

black wings and pistols from their eyes. The commercials
ask you if you have it, and you do. The boogeyman,

with his stench, is pale-horse white. He flies, too, on black crows
with your plucked eyes in their beaks. Haven't you noticed

the mirror has seemed dull? It's the boogeyman who bruises
the glass. He visits churches and whispers pishogues

to the tune of hymns. He infects the evangelist's husband,
the immigrant, the stockbroker, the stay-at-home mother,

any mother's child, the recreational addict, the therapist
and her patients. The boogeyman bogs you down, torturous

submergence. Your cells have been invaded. It is so easy now
to blame the boogeyman. Blame the boogeyman. It's not anyone's fault.



An owl questions with a human face
             For Kelly, (1975 – 2007)

who knows what tomorrow holds, what burdens we carry from the past,

           who knows what damage our fathers have done
           when they thought to tuck us in,

who knows how our mothers regretted leaving us for the wild threat of metal, traffic, scream, work,

who knows the Devil's touch,
           who knows whether God exists,

whether heaven is just a dream of an exit with trumpets when the reality is the bassoon,

            who knows what tests the body can suffer and pass,

who knows what will make it fail,

who knows the ending, whether it be twisted ankle on a rock face and tumble or,


that invisible siege that passes through the gates of hidden bones,

who knows if by plucking the eyes, we preserve the soul,

who knows which relic calls down the appropriate angle of the divine,
if one angel can be useless versus another,

who knows if angels can speak or if they care
or if they are still jealous of free will and the soul,

who knows whether death equates itself to liberty,

            who knows if it is really just a feast for worms,

who knows the who,
            who knows how to know,

who knows how to speak when the tongue decomposes,

who knows how to sign when finger bones crumble,

who knows what the rock thinks of all this passage,

             who knows if we are fools to ask,
             and why, in considering ourselves fools,
             we continue to question,

who knows why the sun beats us into considering it glorious,
though it only serves to bleach the bones,

            who knows the purpose of growth
            only to fall into dust again,

who knows the song the owl sings,
its morbid melody and lyrics,

who knows if a soul will fly from the body, and into another body, the soul,

             who knows how to hope

who knows if the baby's cry
is really a banshee's scream




within this body                    body
           all stone        chunk no chisel can break
                                                                                  lady flower blooms just one night
withered remnant that haunts in hanging
                         blood over the knot              flesh conceals
                                                                                                           all these things
within this body                        growth that claws      sucks the musk scent
           spill from the pump and pull              exhalation in moan
                                                                                                          empty breaths
                  hardened mountain on the hand            effort
           wetted pillar             whetted sword                             metaphors flatten
                        spiral steam from forge      burning scourge
bury it deep                  no monument                     rob the name
                        abstain from baptism                      she never existed




my grandmother told my mother
anyone can marry

anyone can have children
be different

my mother defied, married
had the most children of her siblings

i return to the purple mouth

beneath the scalpel
i split open

a pomegranate seed-filled
bloody juice slips

to stain blue surgical tarps
i offer all those children

cellular halves waiting
minute orbs with dark futures

they fire within the light
unborn and yet exposed

within my slumber i hear
their lullabies silence

the only waking song
wind between thin shades



Persephone returns

Soot black robes drag the red clay through narrow catacombs.
No attendant's light to guide the flitter glance from the walls
where the bodies of men are split and chained apart, veins forever
seeking wholeness across sharp-edged rocks. No, she sees
these sinners with frozen mouths and hears their whisper-screams,
yet walks on with blue-flame candle. The terrain of sin
is tough and steep. She has judged with horrors and does not falter.
Closer to the mouth of hell writhe those who committed
the smallest of errors: a stolen glance at a goddess bathing,
a kiss between the chinks in a wall. Most pitiable, the head
without a body that sings of lost love. Persephone weeps
for the man and girl she knew: the man, brave and humble,
begged his young wife back and the girl, smitten on her wedding
day by a serpent's venom-hiss. She offered Hades a further assurance
that she would never leave for their freedom: a child of spring and flame.
Her gift betrayed by true love, no hope of praise on the tongues
of generations from this human marriage, she ascends and takes a seed.
With slender hand, she lifts the musician to lull the dog that blocks the gate,
and rises far beyond the red-eyed beast, the twisted sinners, the touch
of hell each night, but at the mouth, a pitch black cave, she stops,
to consider the season before her: a wash of spring green and poppy flower red,
sunflowers, and dahlias, cleansing rivers and nearby a bird in mid song.
No need for the candle to see that she has changed, been sullied by this affair.
No need for Odysseus's voice to goad her to misery at the brink of joy.
Purest Persephone with child weeps again for her plight, the damnable
naiveté, that first pomegranate promise, and she turns.