October 25, 2021

Series editor’s note: In Ashaki Jackson’s new poem, the Black woman is at the center of the speaker’s attention, which the poet holds in her own imagining, a radical act in itself—not the act of being able to imagine blackness, but the way one upholds it in defiance of whiteness, an inexhaustible thing. Yet the speaker is also one whose dark hands and black back are forced to fit in sharp suits, as if signaling the way a black body needs to be shaped into other things, especially the body of the Black woman. But here, there is no white gaze, there is no solitude or anguish in the black body; instead, wherever it goes, only defiance, only newness. – Mahtem Shiferraw


That a [Black] woman is insisting on casting her eye upon whatever she wants in itself represents defiance, a reckless eyeballing that was once unavailable to [Black] people. – Zadie Smith

What a luxury to look

                  at you

at what you made:              a mess
of meaning

                                                                                                                                                I drag my sight

along the colonization

of edits of conditions of unstable rubrics Whiteness

an inexhaustible thing
to be seen

I see a new you each glance
(first porcelain now ecru now moderate white)
the wonder
of shapeshifting

odd: your self-cleaning
A regeneration yet same                   (a
same-same) always molting through your soft
doctrines                Your hands

intentional and free to build

 its language always in service of its body its hands
always in service
of desire
                  a monument and mirror

You: monument
Me: mirror

I am most intrigued when you shed skins

scalp to ankle
 a cascade of old rules

                  All your faces       new
fronts and decrees:

a god-ness

                                    Let me see
if I can fit into your afters and their safeties
 My darker hands my Black
back in your old sharp suits

You are most vibrant
in the dark Your undisturbed satisfaction glowing

from each pore The delight

of your sovereign body my
ethnigraphy in the night’s swallow:
coterminous My eyes
big and dark as what they’ve seen

and hungry

Editorial note: Black Voices is a special series guest-edited by Mahtem Shiferraw and sponsored by the WLT Puterbaugh Endowment, which makes possible the Puterbaugh Lit Fest. The series will run on a weekly basis through the end of October 2021.

Ashaki M. Jackson is the author of two chapter-length collections, Language Lesson (Miel, 2016) and Surveillance (Writ Large Press, 2016). Readers may find Dr. Jackson’s poetry and essays in Obsidian, 7x7 LA, CURA, Prairie Schooner, Midnight Breakfast, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Bettering American Poetry, among other publications. She currently serves as executive editor at The Offing literary magazine. She earned her MFA (poetry) from Antioch University Los Angeles and her doctorate (social psychology) from Claremont Graduate University.