“Not of any other world either”

Three kitchen poems from the edge of time

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.”

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.”

black-pot-over-fire-illustration
Illustration by Rawley Clark

CELLAR NOCTURNE

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.

hands-reaching-for-fireflies-illustration
Illustration by Rawley Clark

SEETHING AUBADE

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
table-set-with-candles-and-rose-illustration
Illustration by Rawley Clark

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

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