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Malachi Black is an American poet. He is the author of Storm Toward Morning (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s (PSA) Norma Farber First Book Award and a selection for the PSA’s New American Poets Series (chosen by Ilya Kaminsky). Black’s poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Paris Review, among other literary journals, and in a number of recent and forthcoming anthologies, including Before the Door of God (Yale U.P., 2013) and The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear Publishing [U.K.], 2016). A 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, Black has also received fellowships and awards from the Amy Clampitt House, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Emory University, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, the Poetry Foundation (a 2009 Ruth Lilly Fellowship), the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Yaddo. Black’s work has several times been set to music and has been featured in exhibitions both in the U.S. and abroad, including recent translations into French, Dutch, Croatian, and Lithuanian. Black teaches at the University of San Diego and lives in California.

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Graphic Novels

Photo by Dainius Dirgėla, Oddysseus

 

By Malachi Black

 

Genealogy

My name is not my own. It was a mistranslation. It was a word torn from a forbidden holy book, its pages blurred and swollen by another century’s rain. It was a patch sewn on a uniform. It was the name of a city on a map that was never drawn. It was a board game left unassembled on a child’s bedroom floor. It was a coin no one exchanged. It was a pun. It was a breath that dried my mother’s tongue.

 

Passport

I know you, dogs of Truskava. I have read the transcript of my great-grandfather’s answers on the oral citizenship exam.

1) The pads of your paws are round as river stones.
2) Your hunger bends the Pušis pines out of potato soil.
3) You break open neighbors’ beehives with the yellow of your eyes alone.
4) You bark in old Cyrillic.
5) When you raise your maws to howl, the moon tilts like warm milk held in an uneven bowl.
6) Your teeth are 697 years old: they were a gift from Gediminas, dated 1323.
7) Your urine blinds the newborn moles.
8) Your teeth are shaved from splintered bone.

(Was he? Yes. Illiterate? Also. Nationality? Gone.)

 

The Book of Moses

Consider their socks: stockings, properly—knee-high—daylight—the nineteenth century—wool for the winter; silk, perhaps, for seder and on holy days—darned how often at the heels? Holes, holes always yawning open at the toes—their nails themselves left long, dirt crescents waxing daily in the clop along each unpaved village road. When they walk, when they squint into the miniatured distance, what do they dream? Their feet are rough—the skin is thickened round the heels and toes—the soles, too, hardened like cold crust over dense mud. Their socks have been worn thin—so thin the skin of heel and sole are visible to all whose eyes are on them when their boots are off. These boots: tied, untied—pulled on and then pulled off—tied, untied—pulled on and then pulled off—the laces fray—pulled on and then pulled off. Whose eyes, father? Whose eyes fix on their socks? They are gray, like yours—gray as your mother’s, brother’s, daughter’s, sister’s, husband’s, bride’s, and son’s. Their rooms are dark—the windows rattle, crooked in their wooden frames—their beds are set against the wall. Their teeth ache. They dry their sweat by failing candlelight—their shirts are stiff with it—and when they sleep, they dream of different hands and feet. Their stockings fall—they hang their clothes above the stove.

How many steps was it to Lita from the part in the Red Sea?

 

Weather Report

January 13, in the Year of Our Lord MMXX: There was no snow on Vilnius’ swaybacked stones, but in the stillness of each puddle, there were clouds. At 9:13, the wind rose up, blowing the plaid cap off the head of a retired Wall Street banker crossing Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street into New York City’s Central Park. At 10:06, the statue of a girl was still the statue of a girl in the town square of Šeduva. At 12:42 in San Diego, California, a terra cotta rooftile fell into the perfect center of the shadow of a creaking Windmill Palm. A clerk at the Registry of Vital Records in Boston, Massachusetts dropped his cell phone at exactly the same time. At 14:56, a child in Kaunas tied his shoelace on the bricks of the Ninth Fort. In Atlanta, Georgia, thunderstorms blackened the alleys while an old Volkswagen Golf passed from Medininkai into Belarus at 17:25. At 18:33, at the Green Pig in Salt Lake City, Utah, a drunk man left his empty wallet at the bar. In Madison, New Jersey at 19:19, my mother asked a question no one heard. At 20:21 in Free Union, Virginia, my father turned out the bedroom light without a word.

 

Customs Declaration

I have no documents; I am a citizen of time. I’m unemployed, I don’t believe in occupation. I claim a current but no currency. I pledge allegiance only to the grass beneath each cow. My visa is my father’s father’s watch; its digits are my social security number. Check my pockets: I carry only molecules. Yes, I came to trace the shadow of a cloud. Have I been here before? I am the guide, the tourist, and the tour. My body is a sundial.

 

Summary of Findings

Identity is a function of environment. We can belong, be long, or be found longing.

 

 

 

 

 

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