by Cherryl Floyd-Miller

              “I am in exile. Like everybody else, I live in a world that is given to me …
                                                                                              But it is not my native home.”

                          – Paul Goodman, “Speaking and Language,” Defence of Poetry, 1971

A woman I know well has stolen my face.
She answers for me when someone asks my profession:
Writer, she says, then readies our body for the certain assault.

She makes small talk with my family
about the births and deaths of old neighbors and friends
and sidesteps the cancer that licks at my mother’s brain,

malignancy that waits for my own breast or bones or lungs.
The woman has died for me a thousand times.
tends the pocks and scars that come from simple breathing.

When I am in the company of black poets, she holds
my tongue. Does not protest against the suitable way
to be black enough … (write black enough poems).

My children adore her. She tells them stories
about how they came to be, gives them James Brown
over a plate of dirty rice, peach chutney and fried fish.

But there are days my son detects me (a front
can lie; a back always tells). He walks around the back of me
to find the face. Somewhere in the contour

of practiced muscle and grin, he discovers the brittle pupils,
cups the raised cheekbones, pulls me eye-to-his-eye,
asks the face: Mommy, are you there?

Cherryl Floyd-Miller is a poet/playwright/director living in Atlanta. Her work has been published in North Carolina Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Open City, The American Muse, and several anthologies. She’s held writing fellowships with Cave Canem, Caldera, Idyllwild Summer in Poetry, the Vermont Studio Center and the Indiana Arts Commission. She is an MFA candidate for playwriting and poetry at Goddard College.