Tiana Clark is a Pushcart Prize nominee living and performing poetry in Nashville, Tennessee. As an LA transplant, she attended Hume-Fogg High School and graduated from Tennessee State University. She serves on the board of The Porch Writer’s Collective, a local literary arts center. Her poems have appeared in Southwestern Review, The Raven Chronicles, Nashville Arts Magazine, Word Riot, and forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review. This fall, she will be attending Vanderbilt University’s MFA program in creative writing for poetry. Read more about her at: www.tianaclark.com
Light as a feather stiff as a board, Light as a feather stiff as a board,
we chanted as children. We believed we could levitate bodies with
our words. Like in my church, when the preacher placed charismatic
fire in the palm of his hands to the crucible of our foreheads. He would
shout Jesus! Blow peppermint-scented breath of Spirit on each face.
The huddled congregation fell like drunken dominoes around the altar,
wriggling on the swivel of spiritual intoxication. They called it
slain in the spirit, consumed by divine ecstasy. I wanted to be the
next ember, feel the singe from God all over my body, except when
the preacher laid his hands on me—I felt nothing, only the dry
heat of his dragon mouth. I wanted to believe their version of Jesus
wouldn’t skip me. So when he tried again, pushing me to a slant—
I gave in. Lying on the carpet, encircled by hysterical laughter and
blissed out faces I cried—I was pretending. Same with the child
chants, Bloody Mary was never in the mirror, and the Ouija boards—
I felt nothing, just fingers guiding toward letters with no message for me.
How we fake to feel the magic inside us. It took me a while to understand
that I didn’t have to beg for it, God was already washing the dust off my feet.
“Magic” originally appeared in Word Riot and has been reprinted here with permission of the author.
@ Pinewood Social, After Party
Never have I ever had anal sex! I yelled first with full
gusto and ten splayed fingers like sea stars to people
I barely knew at a fancy bar with a vintage bowling
alley during a game of Never Have I Ever.
Not sure if I said this to be funny or to gain attention
(which it did), but I said my famous sentence flushed
on my fourth drink called THE PINK LADY, because
it got me rowdy—my head: full of soft sea foam,
my body: an ocean of stronger women. I spoke louder
and taller over the music and thunder of bowling ball
wreckage. All the women I wanted to become after
midnight: to be funny and smart, mysterious and
charming, but not too revealing (which failed), to touch
my hair or someone else’s hair and hold the bend of my
glass as a lover’s smooth cheek, then take a sip like I
would take a mouth in me, slowly. I wanted to notice
how small someone’s ear could be tonight and tell them,
almost in a whisper, while I swayed to the rocking boat
of my own pitching. Yes, all my women were dressed in
black cabaret! My sirens, my muses outlined in spotlight
silhouettes. Oh, how I ocean sprayed these new people
with spit, a wetness that happens in furious conversations.
My lips: a propeller on the back of a motorboat sliced the
deep blue night in waves that slid across the glassy wooden
lanes to crash ashore a body of pins. Our server approached—
I raised my empty glass like a stupid trophy. I’ll have another
Pink Lady! I sung. The women in me are so thirsty, like
gorgeous mermaids I was drowning in their iridescent tow.
That night, everyone was a writer and that’s why I drank
so much, siphoned that rosy gin and simple syrup till dawn.
Couldn’t tell if they thought I was insane or brilliant or both—
or worse, nothing at all. Never have I ever been so unsure.
And there it was, as if the serpent was there himself, leading us
with his slick muscle of a body— to find the stack of rain warped
Playboy magazines by a tree. What possessed our nine-year-old
fingers to delicately turn the pages and stare at naked women?
Huddled like football players, our February breath combined into
a low hanging cumulus cloud, or maybe it was a cartoon bubble?
We instantly knew to whisper, giggle and shush each other, as we
all fought to stare at our first sexual questions. We wondered
with our prepubescent bodies if our breast buds would bloom
and hang like so; is this what we wanted or what we thought men
would want from us someday? Later that night, in our sleeping bags,
I don’t remember whose idea it was to take off our panties, but we
did and the giggles started again as we wiggled them down our legs.
We didn’t know how to touch ourselves yet; we were all just
fireflies beginning to find our light until my mother came in. One girl
pushed another out of her sleeping bag, debuting our hidden game
with her bare bottom. My confused mother asked for explanations,
except it took me too long to clothe myself. Then she knew, like all
mothers know what their daughters are hiding. She yelled at us to put
our underwear back on. After my confessions, she pulled me to
the back bedroom and punished me, her hand swiping across my body
as she sniped, “What would the other parents think?” A foreshadow
for sex: scavenger hunt, hands buckling into a roller coaster ride, fear
of my mother catching me, then pain followed by crying—the first bite.
You Can Sleep With A Man You Hate But He Will Know
We’re all haunted houses.
Full of ghosts.
The ghosts of those we’ve loved and lost.
Those we’ve hurt,
and those who’ve hurt us.
– Peter Rollins
The house is a novel I want to write in chapters.
I lived with a young man in this house—
with his father and the father’s many newspapers,
with his roommate who was always smoking pot
and talking about his ex-wife before I knew how
to live with other men.
The young man was a friend from work, said
I could live in the house for free. My mother had
kicked me out, so I was desperate to believe you
could live with a man for free.
The house is the face of the older Bukowski:
craggy, insecure, gin-blossom pinky veins.
And the Bukowski emotions:
rage simmered as the toilet bowl simmered
even I simmered something brilliantly mad.
I was the ghost of this house—
lingered behind these men and their daily activities
waited to take my shower till the house was empty.
His father’s incessant wet cough shook in my ears
like the quavering tail of a rattlesnake.
I waxed the young man’s back in this house,
smoked pot with his roommate while he
talked about his ex-wife for hours and hours,
I’m gonna git her back, git her back I swear it!
I yelled and cried and cut myself in this house.
I was its ghost, its prisoner and sex slave—
Bukowski’s cunt: his drink: his cave to absorb
all of that midnight yelling.
I never wanted anyone to visit me, but my friend
Dylan came once. She was a pretty girl with a boy’s
name and we spent New Year’s Eve snorting
cocaine in the room I shared with this young man.
We watched porn that night. We did not touch each
other—we all wanted to, but we let the throb
of wanting to touch each other be enough.
We approach the end and it reads like the beginning,
with a young girl throwing all of her boyfriend’s
cocaine off the porch into the clasp of January’s dark
shiver, like I was spreading the ashes of someone’s
the young man
maybe all of East Nashville
before its gentrification
before I even knew what that word meant.
Now, when I pass the blue house on 11th with its
bright renovation on my way to the new, hip spot
for brunch and pay $10 for an Elderflower Mimosa—
I think of the wisp of white powder that suspended
in the air like a spirit being released. Some genie
that granted me a wish to leave this house that
looked so much like Bukowski’s angry-open face.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education
Drugs—even the word pulls like an opening to a cave.
I remember the D.A.R.E. officer that came to our school
with stickers and relatable rap music. Each of us pledged
like Hitler’s youth to never do drugs, but there’s an order
to follow. First, it was cigarettes. Just holding one and you
felt like a Nirvana song was between your fingers, all grunge
and carelessness with plaid, stonewashed jeans slit at the
knees, then smoking your boyfriend’s pot.
Then you find yourself at nineteen in the bathroom stall
at PF CHANG’S CHINA BISTRO pulling a little baggy
and a cut straw out of an empty Bubble Yum wrapper,
snorting white lines off the metal top of tampon receptacle.
The chemical sludge sliding down the back of your throat—
numbing your gums with an index finger laced with chalky
residue. The zing-zap in your brain as your janky jaw pops
side to side when you head up to the hostess stand, taking
people back and forth and back and forth to their tables till
the coke wears off.
Cocaine—even the word draws up judgment, like:
mafia or Krispy Kreme doughnuts… but once you do it
you get it. Once you do it you get stuck in a loop, like in
one of those trance songs, an itch develops that you need
to preemptively scratch like lifting a needle to the groove
of a record. How we rake the damages of our need across
our life, like a tattoo you cannot see but the memories ink
themselves as Rorschach tests—sometimes it’s a black
butterfly, a dead deer, your dead grandmother,
but always your damn daddy issues.