On Honey & Coconut Oil

Elyse Thomas

Miami, FL

School for Advanced Studies

Poetry

i.

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.

ii.

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.

iii.

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.

iv.

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.

v.

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.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

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