Safiya Sinclair: from Cannibal



The Caucasian skull is large and oval, with well-proportioned features. The
nasal bones are arched, the chin full, the teeth vertical. This race is distinguished
for the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments.

                                               Lusus Naturae
                                                        noun (rare)
                                                        A freak of nature.


Black body burns itself
                        to bushfire—
spurned husk that I am. Skinned viscous,
daughtering fever. Grief knifes its slow lava

through my fluorescent, gnarled
as if a neon viper, as if singed animus.
Gaslamp-hot for necking, lit oceanliners
                                                gulped in.

Such is our ambush.     Spore of my peculiar—
Even the sea derails full-throttle at every turn.


What scurvy thrush unmoors               this boiled
microbial         as spite besots my humid mouth.

Storm, hag-seed and holy.
Come dusk, a rumbottle sky
                       I am sipping.
My preening tongue, the guillotine.

Know nothing here will grow politely.
Such is our nature.
Such lurid rains sedate us villainous low:

This eel-eye screws to dazzling fright
                        what slowly turns to vapor,
and another hot light spoils me
                        for grotesquerie.

Sibling, Sisyphean. Howl of my unusual,
now we have reclassified the very
                                                ape of us.

Half fish                      and Half monstrous.
Drowned spine of toothache take us
and barnacled, all crippled filaments
                                    all jawbone.

Already plucked           of cruder blooms,
brined hippocampus
                            unzipped with germ.

My dropsied and unteachable.
Lo, this Indigene. Hissing into madness
this infrarer. All night.

our dark carousel haphazards,
            churning to house our many jargon,
masked congenital, and cloven in,

Diagram and mooncalfed.        Even I.
How sometime I am wound with solitude.

Enough a Negress all myself.

Scorn, one golliwog-bone knots the black
mock of me, naked and denouncing
            us artless.

Vexed skinfolk. Unfossiled, hence.
What a brittle world is              man.
Self inflammable, I abjure you.

And wear your gabble like a diadem,
this flecked crown of dictions,
                                              this bioluminescence.

Predator coiled eager               at the edge
                                                     of these maps.


Master, Dare I


                                         unjungle it?

Safiya Sinclair 
was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the 2017 Phillis Wheatley Book Award in Poetry, the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and selected as one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.” Cannibal was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, and longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Safiya received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. This poem was reproduced from Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.

Author: Jake Byrne

Poetry editor.