The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues
OCT 2021 Issue



Summer begins its descent, and we waste the hours in love
with our girlhood: red popsicles drip on our good dresses,
our legs carry us through the wild grass, skin sighing against
each green blade, your hand scratched on bark,
me finally mastering the two-strand twists I practice on you
because your hair finally grew past your shoulders. It’s late July.
It’s us two under the low hanging expanse. Your hair is so long,
I’m jealous
, I whisper. Say to wisdom, You are my sister,
and call understanding my kinswoman. I wanted to deliver you
from cruelty & gave you my own instead. Beneath your long skirt,
a tapestry of rubies. I rinse your legs with the backyard spicket.
My life made sense when we were of one mind & two bodies.
Now, you keep secrets from me. Your diary says as much.
The seasons turn and we stop knowing each other. Take my hand, I say,
& we tangle ourselves in the hammock. When you head lulls
onto my chest, I notice your hand is still bleeding. I pull a bobby
pin from my hair, bend it straight, open my skin. My blood meeting
yours to become “cainabel”. My name eating yours to become
“cannibal”. Mercy at your still body becomes “claimable”.
Call it “grace” or “pity”, you my ancestor, my wife, I should
have ended you when the stakes were lower. Wound of my wound,
immutable bond, my heart unknowable from yours becomes “chainable”.
Clarity arrives as patient light: No matter what wind will drive us apart,
you'll never leave me.

Husbandchild: Etymology of Cain

The first return of spring I could remember,
Momma took me out to the landscape,
said, Burrow your hands into the soil & listen.
So, I did. I am daughter & husband. Sister & mother.

My name means “she who creates; crafts; forms”.
The world I wanted most was one that would bend
at will. I didn’t understand this as a child,
when my first Narcissus wilted in the heat.

It was the law of my home: Because I’m older,
my sister does as I tell her. She cuts me a bowl
of blood oranges and I delight the spoils. Firstborn.
Third parent. Mother of my own haunting lack.

Was I allowed my youth or was I just a surrogate to salvage
my parents’ union? I keep my nails short and my heart planted
in the ground. My hands have come to know the wet dark intimately.
My parents only touch at night, plea each other’s name.

Sister calls me “Perverse”, and I say “How?”
Frogs envelope their softness into each other.
Wild horses mount their mates to undo
an ancient appetite. The soil tells me as much.

In my tantrums, I cursed the Narcissus, it said Yes lord
then perished at my feet. I know what love is
because I know what violence is capable of.
Truth is: I have no husband habits.

Mother weeps in my lap with her good eye unblackened by Adam’s rage.
Baba, You have given me this dominion to master.
You want perfection, yet You want the labor done
by human hands. How do I win if there’s no pleasing You…?


I.S. Jones

I.S. Jones is an American / Nigerian poet, essayist, etc. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, Washington Square Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Frontier Poetry, Hobart, The Rumpus, The Offing, Shade Literary Arts, and elsewhere. She is the Director of the Watershed Reading Series with Art Lit Lab.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues