This contributed piece is a part of our Featured Voices series, which invites writers, poets, artists, and creators to explore the various intersections of Blackness and Greenness. Through “Cellar Nocturne,” “Seething Aubade,” and “Green Silk…Sky Signal,” poet Makshya Tolbert revisits plantation-era kitchen cellars in central Virginia, listening for signs of Black interior life alongside her own prophetic fermentation and eco-social creative practice. Anchored in a dynamic, Black feminist placemaking tradition, these poems weave Black diasporic foodways and geologic memory across time. Their invitation is not only spatial but deeply choreosonic, felt as much in the body as in the spaces where we act out our lives. “Not of any other world either” moves in Black time: the poems live in rupture, in the spaces between state changes. In the wake of an ongoing past, these poems reach toward what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls, “life in rehearsal.”
What is night in the subterranean cellar, lack of a name? by the grace of murky vision and wide smell: the crucible decays iron pots flood negative space we tend open flames in the refuse my relations unpolished amethyst & oyster shells waft toward reforested sky seep like smoke smoke like music in this regard unity seeping out of and into mountains through ocean retrieval a testament
Note: The line “smoke like music in this regard” is from the talk, “Notes from a Blue Note in the Gospel of Barbecue,” in which Fred Moten discusses Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ The Gospel of Barbecue. Talk and transcript here.
Damask roses ferment on an old sewing table the morning breaking pale pink bubbles these quiet meetings between supine and sight one black house fly two shadows crawls up and up the window i flinch three flies fall by my side i steal their breath keep their wings body myself a hammer almost splitting into three I try to prune the santa rosas instead though my path is not patient love stays dormant and still there are gods I cannot reach the trees playing dead a thousand more hours an articulated form of managed neglect i kneel at the pews of flies
green silk…sky signal
yes we eat higher on the hog now & some nights our mouths travel through time and tongue to the hock we return, the smoked knuckle breathing as if a heart. is it screams or silence germinating in the black— we dress our hock in sliced walla wallas. walla wallas wail back in the pore space, knobs of ginger change the air this evening is not the distance between us this evening is coming to a boil is seething is half full of water & salted pork anticipating transference; radish greens swiss chard collards & a bobbing horizon i pull from anything i have i feel my grandmother in red stems– scaffolding no longer punishment my whole world slows down october calls everyone’s home & everyone’s hungry we learn the sky signal & it is like bringing green silk to a table dressed in itself looking up at us from the black—potlikker— this our essence distilled
Makshya L. Tolbert (she/they) is a poet, cook, and potter living in the ruptures between Black ancestral memory and ecological practice. Her recent poems and essays have been published in Interim, Narrative Magazine, Emergence Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, Art Papers, and Odd Apples. Makshya is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at the University of Virginia. In their free time, they are elsewhere—where Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. calls “that physical or metaphorical place that affords the space to breathe.”