A Quadriptych: Sonnets to Break the Crown of Invisibility [2022 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Winner]

Weak follows my jaws, a refusal to want outside of shut; a hinge knowing
the damage of open: to let in or let out. How the humpback whale’s mouth
expands up to 10 feet, yet the throat widens only 15 inches in diameter—how 
my esophagus holds memories: in constriction, in gasps. Whale’s body expels 
& breathes air as mammal. Evelyn Green owned the sheep pasture adjacent

to the Alden Motel. Evelyn Grimes, my grandmother, brought her goulash
& ham sandwiches with mustard on dinner rolls. Both Evelyns shared 
a pastoral thinking of living in Iowa in the 1980s. Both Evelyns rolled 
their short gray hair in curlers each night, wore costume pearls, & polyester 
pants in summer. From the necks of both Evelyns swung golden crosses

with the outline of Jesus in crucifixion linens embossed. Evelyn Green’s piano
sat in the parlor just before the back sunroom. Grandma sent me to deliver 
leftover church lilies. Would you teach me to play? I asked Evelyn Green. Oh, 
dear don’t touch. Children like you become ditch diggers. Humpback, unable to surface. 




Dear don’t touch. Children like you become ditch diggers. I am the humpback, unable to surface
inside my whale heart, my whale brain. Evelyn Green’s words radiate under my epidermis
even after thirty years. I remember the whale’s aorta measures over nine inches, yet the heart 
only consists of 1% body weight. Water supports the weight of whales. Water helps construct 
the shape of whales we know. How an environment molds the body. Evelyn Green’s words 
remind me, whales’ ears, the only mammalian ears to adapt fully underwater, hold the broadest 
acoustic range of any mammal. In my dive, in my sink, the surface remains above—a spell 
cast to tempt bones back out of the depths—when I stay in the wet, as the wet, when I linger

my pulsed calls, clicks & whistles permeate the waters, across 321 million cubic miles of ocean
to reach the ears of other whales, whales who understand a body living half in air & half 
in water will always be misinterpreted, misrepresented. To examine a whale out of water

means to ignore plurality in the mechanisms of anatomy. To examine a whale under water
means no examination exists, only witness to a body in motion, a body alive. Water inside
us echoes. Environment sculpts us & we sculpt environment. How human of our animality.  




Environment echoes us, sculpts us, & we sculpt environment. Concepts of human & animality
carve deep wounds of racist hierarchy & antiblackness from western humanist thinking. 
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues, “black matter [nonrepresentability] holds the potential 
to transform the terms of reality and feeling, therefore rewriting the conditions of possibility 
of the empirical.”1 Newton invokes law of inertia. Newton explains Kepler’s law. Newton 
establishes the science of gravitation: attractive force connecting all bodies with mass. All bodies. 
All bodies. All bodies? I lick iron from the corners of my mouth. The Birwood Wall in northwest 
Detroit, 6´ high, 12˝ thick, erected behind Margaret Watson’s house in 1941: brick & mortar 
manifestation of segregation, alive & still damaging; a thinking that human, a term never meant for us, 
the colonized, the enslaved brown & Black people, only beast, beast, beast & we left with a language 
coating our molars, lodging in our esophagi, wanting us dead; any excuse to beast a body not white—

not not not not not not not a mantra of being, of those who no longer wish the “humanist prize,”2 who 
seek existences with our bodies, safe inside. Nietzsche, I no longer accept concepts as gifts. Ocean 
tides & centrifugal forces existed before the words moon & earth. Imagine us, inscribing anew.   




Tides & centrifugal forces existed before the words moon & earth. Imagine us, inscribing new
divinations of being. In mathematics, i signifies the imaginary unit: imaginary number: solution 
to the quadratic equation x² + 1 = 0, or square root of negative one. i holds no property, no real 
number, yet real in thinking; i extends the real numbers, makes them complex numbers by using

addition & multiplication. I make my I an i. I make my i an I. I make my eye and i. I make my i 
an eye. I am both +i & –i on the Cartesian plane, steeped in a vertical axis of above & below in all 
my dimensions. My cerebrum extends the conversation in the all-white, all-male boardroom. My 
collarbone extends the playground from kickball court to boxing ring. My cochlea extends his jaw

hesitant in silence before the question Why did God give Mexicans noses? His idea of “a joke.” My salivary
glands & ducts spit out all the “jokes”; how only tiny slivers, close to the surface, work their way 
out when skin sheds. How you want to believe the body pushes out deep splinters, ingrown

& yet the infection persists. All those fucking jokes. My i/eye transforms the equation: asks 
to see this breath mixing with air, these lungs filling, this chest cracking & throbbing, these labia

quavering, this cerebral cortex contemplating me & us—i a force of matter, extends a reckoning.  



1. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. “On Becoming Human: An Introduction,” 39.

2. Jackson, 33.


Felicia Zamora is the author of six books of poetry, including Quotient (Tinderbox Editions, 2022) and I Always Carry My Bones (University of Iowa Press, 2021), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry. Her poems appear in American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 2022, Boston Review, The Missouri Review, Orion, Poetry, The Nation, and others. She is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Cincinnati and associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review.