The Matter of Things [2022 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Featured Finalist]

I’m telling you the plain truth    you would think 
a town with this many poor folks peeling potatoes was unhappy

but getting off the sun bus     my mama was waiting there
with the other mamas       thick piece of maple at her hip  

for any carolina dog between here   and where she’s covered my room 
with a thousand plastic stars     we are citizens of their upstairs laughter 

& their Tupperware clear tears 
carried to two jobs    cleaning office buildings   four nights a week

my house   like everyone’s    had a table     
to sit down some troubles 

when the emptiness chose us 
we dumped out lonely in the river like bad sugar wine 

or held it in a wicker basket 
with the fish    who like us   learn to embrace in their deaths

you would think we all just wanted to kneel over in the dirt 
of our slap board houses   but we greased our legs & went out into our yards 

& made them hot pink purple & beautiful     a ceremony of canna
then scrubbed our houses like God was coming to get a plate 

you would think      we didn’t have time to plant flowers
and flour biscuits 

but every thumb here has had dough under its nail
& is priest green

We still gather near flames 
because that all grandmothers had    you would think 

we couldn’t kill a thing   but the deer knew to run   
so did the squirrels    

you would think we made the reddest devil horns 
when we hear the Lord’s name out loud


Tyree Daye is the author of the poetry collections a little bump in the earth, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press; Cardinal (Copper Canyon, 2020); and River Hymns (American Poetry Review, 2017), winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. A Cave Canem fellow, Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellow, and Whiting Writers Award recipient, Daye is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.