Eviction; nostalgia; Purblind; The Troubles; Severance; & elegy for the moaner, 2016



for Wislawa


As if I created this

pyramid of obey and exist. 

Between the breathturn stares

of others, also exiled, and those

who called me all but my name, 

I nearly forgot that I could,

unlike Lot’s wife, glance back

for the answers—some threads 

of truth where memory faltered.

In sooth, that snake was not a reptile. 

The fruit of good and evil

was flower of wasps, not an apple. 

I was less inbred rib, more accurately,

unbred. Love was often anguished and 

paradise looked like anybody’s

overgrown garden. I didn’t

beg Adam’s pardon and never 

asked why me, o Lord? No 

proverbs would suffice when

genesis is what is and was what

was. I looked, instead, to the present

as the past cracked underfoot, 

lowered into riverbeds. The waters 

rose below and leagues above flaming 

vines enveloped the stairs to heaven 

glister by glister. Due east, fly ash 

blanketed each morning glory 

I named in light, pocked

the night phlox perfumed distant

moons ago. I vowed from the eye  

of that reckoning, fates among 

Eves would not be the same:


If one sister is silenced into salt

without body that remembers, 

then I will batter my cymbals

bearing witness for us both

with what body still remains.  




elegy for the moaner, 2016


After 22 years of gathering dust, it’s time

to remove the urn from the cabinet

& put him beneath proper ground.


There’s the small problem of not having

a pine box for the body made

smaller by not having his body at all.


Hell, I don’t have a choir to sing riffs

and not one pastor to eulogize. 

 I abandoned hat feathers and black

  church theatrics to settle on myrhh

kindling and mindful mantras.

  Although I concede: burials should be

an occasion of final rites, pomp

and happenstance, if you will,

with at least one moaner who may or may

  not know the departed. And so

I gather alone


with a shovel in my backyard

and his needle in my forethought.

I offer what I have to give—these brick pavers,

his cheap urn, the memory of my sister’s 

fist through our childhood home’s window

 and the gentle way he sobered to wrap 

her paw in an old shirt. The Barbie lunchbox

 in which he, high, captured the rabid

              bat that bit me while I slept.

Except it wasn’t a bat at all but a wren.

Imagine a grown man chasing a bird

just to say he finally caught the

elusive. Nevertheless, that bat spell took.

The bird flew. We fled. I lived.


We all lived for a while at least 

until we didn’t. I am now miles

from where he spoke his last words: 

               Even God left. I’m only . . .

I get it. If the reaper RSVPs,

men wait at the forked road

               with fresh baked chaff

grown over many summers—

bounty cut lovely, dross shot up.

Fool hands won’t realize Lucifer

   manages the silo, his barters larcenous.


I once loathed the blind risks

 that made men harvest pulse and

bet full stalk. Laid odds against gains

         and harbored spite of ill gambles. 

  But loss humbles, hindsight mellows,

since my double down with rage

  never once paid—

never one raised 

    my father from any grave.


Airea D. Matthews is the author of Simulacra (Yale University Press, 2017), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and the forthcoming memoir-in-verse Bread and Circus (Simon and Schuster, 2023). Matthews earned her MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. In 2022, she was named Philadelphia’s poet laureate. She is an associate professor at Bryn Mawr College, where she co-directs the poetry program.