From When Rap Spoke Straight to God

Erica Dawson




When U-God from Wu-Tang said, You ain’t heard

us in a minute, rap spoke straight to God.


When I broke bread, it was a syrup sandwich.

I licked all the body off my nails.


I saw two birds stalking a basketball court,

rivaling a confirmation when they spotted


buckled asphalt and saw a growing squall

go smooth. And when they dove to break the surface—


a reconciliation. I said to God, Just watch

the demonstration every night. You’ll see


blackness kept in its station. I saw peace,

one time, in fuchsia dusk—a fair tomorrow.


And I saw dusk that plagiarized my one

and only prayer—


Hallelujah. I’m ready

to go searching for that mysterious dark

when nightfall proves to be empty before

the heavens turn red from the fire.


This is me disillusioned with the mouth.

This is me thinking of the time I came

as fire in an apostle’s throat. This is

me as the burn that a believer breathes.


This is me sucking on small stacks of dimes

tucked into either side of my frenulum.

This is my fissured tongue as wishing well.


I deserve no need for this. I call the space

between my lips my hunt for satisfaction.


What’s sweeter than a paramour who’s kept

and loving it: the way we say a man

keeps a mistress instead of has a mistress

because keep means possession, hold, and grip?


Bad bitch.


                  She loves that he left in a serein

tonight—fine rain and not a single cloud—

that the lightbulb in the lamp beside

her bed is dying, that it buzzes as

an insect does, the flashing filament

the thorax, shell the exoskeleton.


She loves the dog that’s hollering outside,

how it could be where he stood earlier,

next to a bird that must’ve hit the ground

like a bare back door—such aimless force, its head

sits perpendicular to its broad chest.


The dog must have its hungry face in it.


She loves thinking what it’d be like to bark

and grumble in your throat, to make a sound

of such alarm for both pleasure and pain

that people stand back.  She hopes to make a noise

next time he comes over, an afternoon

on a day that’s warm enough for open windows,


when somebody will hear her, stop, and think

a mother tongue of glossolalia.


                                                                   The devil got up in me something fierce.


You won’t believe what happened to the angels.


They never speak the language of the body.


I have a dream I corner Gabriel and tell

him how, one time, I cored the moon and lived,

for a month of Sundays, warm inside its curve.


He whispers, Never tell, then tells me how

he holds dearest the best part of “Hail Mary,”

the Tupac song. He raps for me—Revenge,

next to getting pussy, is like the sweetest joy.


I tell him about evening and morning good.

He tells me of Eve’s leaves after the fall’s



                He reminds me of the verse

“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”


Hold it, he says. A few seconds at least—


Erica Dawson is the author of three books of poetry: When Rap Spoke Straight to God (Tin House, forthcoming September 2018); The Small Blades Hurt (Measure Press, 2014), winner of the 2016 Poets’ Prize, and Big-Eyed Afraid (Waywiser Press, 2007), winner of the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street; Bennington Review; three editions of Best American Poetry; Crazyhorse; Harvard Review; Rebellion; Resistance; Life: 50 Poems Now; the Pushcart Prize XLII: Best of the Small Presses; Virginia Quarterly Review; and numerous other journals and anthologies. She lives in Tampa, Florida, and is an associate professor at University of Tampa, where she also directs the low-residency MFA program.

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