Woman with Death on Her Mind

Nina Oteria



A “Woman with Death on Her Mind” I begin by writing into the spill. Crave intimacy,
veiled thoroughly there.

How many holes are there in my body? All I feel is .

I think about what to write for niggas who don’t read anymore. For my little brother who
came to me in the dream and said “I can’t read all this! It’s too long.” There is nothing to
write about anymore. The more knowledge the more sorrow. I fantasize about never
reading another book.

Instead I try to wear my own breadcrumbs. Wear heat in the sun and you’re gonna fry. If
you fry in the sun you’re gonna wear heat, eat black. Sunspot in magnetic flux. Wanted
to leave but to sizzle. To sizzle, it was all we had.

I wanted to live a life away from  but I had starspots.

Most of the options were unbearable so I set the timeline to . I’ve seen
a RIP tide.

After my book is done I will . All the feedback the city gives me is
static. I was supposed to protect the page but when I go to write their thoughts are on

Their hands are on me. I crave the intimacy of  if you can understand me.

“The most unsettling reality is our own” underneath all this when our eyelashes brush
together. The velvet of your ankle. The center of the blackberry flower that becomes the
fruit. A swollen symmetry. First the petals die away.



In preschool I was the only  child. The first few days of class I asked
my mother why was everyone pink? I can negate. At an early glance from pinkeyes I
retreat on maps of mattresses. Sleep away. On 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds.
Stacked high. In plush and satin.   deep I’m down in there. Tossing and turning. I’m stroking a golden
retriever whose iris is fluctuating. Like a camera lens. Assessing. I feel entranced but I
can’t sleep. I scarcely closed my eyes all night. In the morning I tell them. I couldn’t
sleep I felt something under me. Unmoving. Patterened. Why pink?

I come from the pupil sprawl  back. Now I realize I am black and
all over my body. No body will tell me anything and so I peel back
the bedding for myself. I push the 40 mattresses down searching for the thing that
bruised me. Between the last mattress and the carpet I find it. Hard like a pebble. Pink
and unlidded. I realize I am black and blue all over. Real. Who could be as sensitive as



I’m interested in the work of young Panteha who draws “
that would murder you in your sleep.” I’ve come to her gallery showing with a black
woman from Netherlands.

We browse the portraits together. She says: there’s a clear difference between white
and black Americans. She says: she’s just a visitor here so the difference doesn’t bother
her it’s just something to note. She says: she doesn’t know how black Americans aren’t
always in a . How they aren’t always . It’s really obvious
she says: the white people are so fake I can’t tell if it’s me or if it’s them sometimes. But
she says I’m not from here so I know it’s not me.

There’s something like a small stream between us. She adds: black people all over the
world have some roughness to their experience.

“To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be
  almost all the time.” My mother was always called

. A good shield. But I know how soft she is. is

turned outwards. Slavery never ended.

 is  turned inwards. I’m advised that it’s not necessary to
say  this poem. But the poem is my life. Of misunderstandings. So what
do you expect?

God loves ugly. The more knowledge the more sorrow. The  and
mix. People read  in specific ways. I fantasize about
never reading another book. They misread me. I find myself inside a slip. I’m confused
because I keep talking about  and everyone keeps responding as if I’m
talking about . I feel unrecognizable.

I say one thing but they hear another. I say one thing but they see another. I don’t try to
make . My face is misread as often as my poems. I take advantage of the
slippage when it suits me. And other times I  slash  in the
wake of

parallel expressions.


Images in order of appearance:

photo taken by Nina Oteria of Kerry James Marshall’s “Woman with Death on Her Mind”

Noname’s “Telefone” album cover created by Nikko Washington

photo taken by Nina Oteria of a drawing by Panteha Abareshi