On Honey & Coconut Oil
School for Advanced Studies
I give myself baths of honey & coconut oil,
so I can feel closer to my lineage—
my mother’s mother & her mother’s mother,
descendants of the Caribbean—& pretend I am resolute
in my heritage, pretend I am black girl glowing
in golden hour sunsets & acceptance.
I clutch the skin between my fingers
& try to remove my caramel descent
& yellowing undertone from myself. I attempt
to recall when I was newly born, skin so soft
in alabaster & pre-melanin, my veins peeking beneath
the surface. Now, I spend nights of prayer—fingers
interlaced like African prints—asking the Lord
to be of ivory complexion like when I slipped
from the borders of my mother’s womb
and encountered a culture of colorism.
I fold ignorance in my skin, push thoughts
below my waistline, & attach minimal knowledge
of my ethnicity on my hip. I do not understand
the power in my ancestry or the beauty painted
in my discolored, browning skin. My ancestors
blink once at the cultural knowledge I lack,
blink twice in disbelief, & blink themselves
three times into obtuse constellations.
When I have grown into myself, I will have learned
to bleed into my culture, develop heartache
for a home in the Caribbean, & create burial grounds
for my ignorance. When I am older, I will remember
what it is like to feel shame, feel my ribcage overturn
in my torso, & feel the weight of carrying sea salt tears.
So I can feel closer to my lineage,
I give myself baths of honey & coconut oil—
for my mother’s mother & her mother’s mother,
descendants of the Caribbean. I push my head
down under, allow carbon dioxide to rise in my lungs,
& shift my body into a chrysalis of aching.
An absolutely stunning poem about identity, the language told me to ache, and I did with my entire heart. The author handles the overlapping nature of identity and culture with an incredibly delicate hand.
Elyse Thomas is a student in the Class of 2021 at School for Advanced Studies in Miami, Florida. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and has appeared in Gyroscope Review and Alexandria Quarterly. In addition to writing, Elyse enjoys stargazing and late night car rides.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR