Mend by Kwoya Fagin Maples
Poetry, The University Press of Kentucky (2018)
Paperback: 96 Pages
Available for $19.95 at UPK
Publisher’s description: The inventor of the speculum, J. Marion Sims, is celebrated as the “father of modern gynecology,” and a memorial at his birthplace honors “his service to suffering women, empress and slave alike.” These tributes whitewash the fact that Sims achieved his surgical breakthroughs by experimenting on eleven enslaved African American women. Lent to Sims by their owners, these women were forced to undergo operations without their consent. Today, the names of all but three of these women are lost.
In Mend: Poems, Kwoya Fagin Maples gives voice to the enslaved women named in Sims’s autobiography: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. In poems exploring imagined memories and experiences relayed from hospital beds, the speakers challenge Sims’s lies, mourn their trampled dignity, name their suffering in spirit, and speak of their bodies as “bruised fruit.” At the same time, they are more than his victims, and the poems celebrate their humanity, their feelings, their memories, and their selves. A finalist for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, this debut collection illuminates a complex and disturbing chapter of the African American experience.
from “What Yields”
I am dead where I lie, already plucked.
Yet all afternoon, sir, I have risen
up out of this whiteness—out of its touch
I come and though my mind is dim
I will say no, split your trembling lip by
my refusal. I’ve been longing to see
the rush of blood to your mouth, your pink lie
distended, the flush of blood to your cheeks.
I’ve been reaching for the surface to show
what fists can do. My eyes reach for you
out of reach. I am too much to feel, too
impossible to be known. All afternoon
you slept in down, snug against your wife’s dove back.
Bodies above virtue are never black.
Bodies above virtue are never black.
Sprawling dewberries grow along your fence;
since most days we are hungry, we take
them—fill hemp sacks we hide against our hips.
When each bite unravels in our mouths
we imagine a sweeter history
and more hope than you could ever allow.
Desperate, we gorge on dewberries—
the heady berries and our molars’ slow
grinding drown out the distant cries of
thief. Crushed berry over berry over
berry, this joy—the closest thing to love.
Sated, we hide the blue-stained sacks again.
Our eyes blink back the river to be lost in.
Way after night has put on his robe,
we put the washpot to the door
to catch our voices.
In the middle of all the shouting
and praising is the prettiest black boy
with big cow eyes
and my heart
sets to beating like a drum.
Folks laid out on the ground,
slain in the spirit
and all I see is this boy:
he has the straightest string of pearls
Sections III and IV of “What Yields” and “Prayer Meeting” are used with permission of University Press of Kentucky and the author.
“What Yields” previously appeared in Blackbird Poetry Review and a special issue of Obsidian: Literature and Arts in the African Diaspora as a finalist for the 2017 Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize.
Kwoya Fagin Maples is a writer from Charleston, S.C. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and is a graduate Cave Canem Fellow. She is the author of Mend (University Press of Kentucky, 2018), a finalist for the AWP Prize and received a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. In addition to a chapbook publication by Finishing Line Press entitled Something of Yours (2010), her work is published in several journals and anthologies including Blackbird Literary Journal, Obsidian, Berkeley Poetry Review, The African-American Review, Pluck!, Cave Canem Anthology XIII, The Southern Women’s Review, and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. Maples teaches Creative Writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and directs a three-dimensional poetry exhibit which features poetry and visual art including original paintings, photography, installations, and film.