Rustling leaves that tease over water's wind,
static on a black and white television screen when the hanger does not serve,
or starched ribbon whispers down the back of a First Communion girl,
this is what they say is the sound of my voice,
almost the sound, because no one gets it right,
no one dips fingers or tastes me tender with the tongue
and says, she sounds like a river.
No one listens closely to my currents.
They see clear waters over shuffling silt,
sand, dirt and rounded rocks. They see me shimmy
and prance over boulders, through their chinks.
The smallest crack like a palatial door that I slide through,
and they think that this is so easy, that I wanted to run
downstream, slip in the hidden places beneath the ground
and come out a trickle or pounding waterfall.
They call me nymph and imagine me supple, limber and wanting
to play, forgetting how even I, the shallow beauty, hold
pits to drown without pity. What can I do
against my nature? They forget the days when they floated
makeshift prayer boats along my face,
or plucked it with their foolish skipping stones, how they thought
I was unchanged, not knowing that I bore the scars downriver deep.
They want to say they love my sound, the feel of my fingertips
against their bodies, never imagining that if I could take
the water they claim beneath those fragile skins
I would make it mine.
Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in The Holly Rose Review, Bosphorus Art Project Quarterly, The Osprey Journal, Verdad Magazine, The Sixers Review, The Externalist, Minglewood, The Cherry Blossom Review, Natural Bridge, African American Review, OCHO, Spindle Magazine, Black Arts Quarterly, Poem.Memoir.Story, Womb, Boxcar Poetry Review, Salt Hill Journal, Xavier Review, MiPoesias, Torch, Poetic Voices without Borders, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, AntiMuse, Farmhouse Magazine, Furnace Review, Constellation Magazine, and Tiger's Eye Journal among others. Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (2006) and is now available through Wordtech Communications. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She headed the High School Literacy Project at the University of North Carolina and is currently teaching Journalism and Spanish at an American high school in Germany.