Wednesday, April 3, 2013

a poem by cynthia manick

Tapping at Mama’s Knees

On Saturdays we slept in whole-tone scales
mama side-slipping in bed to the cool
wash of sheets and Charlie Parker.
She dubbed it sick day. Our symptoms:
hemorrhaging soul patrol
bicoastal funk-edermis
and perforated jazz-endectomy.
We’d lay like a pair of black lizards
or one stuffed cottonmouth.
Belly cluster pillows
with tales of a Jackson Pullman porter
or river boat gambler
or logger from Cameroon she met in 52,
the tale always changes.
They all tickled toes like Dizzy’s
trumpet carved in gold,
made a girl scream silver amen’s
like praise all over the body.
She left behind a handful of land-
locked country boys
and salt-water negroes.
One gave her a ring and a necklace
of coins, cobalt nickel, or amethyst,
the tale always changes.
But he couldn’t stop the clinging
of saxophones and smoke
that sucked mama straight to Harlem,
curled in the hems of silk slips
and heels of toe-peeped shoes.
While a body craves light
mama wanted the dark arms of trumpeters,
watching the veins pull notes together
was like an island being born.
Even now on Saturdays when low-strings
are bent double, she calls and asks
why aren’t you married? and
what’s your favorite horn?

Cynthia Manick is a Cave Canem and Hambidge fellow. She holds a BA from Hollins University in English and Philosophy and a MFA from the New School.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Kweli Journal, Mythium Literary Journal, Sou’wester, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Tidal Basin. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.


  1. Cynthia Manick's poems take me to the river each time I read or hear them. I am constantly baptized by her clever phrasing, in this case, such as: "...we slept in whole-tone scales," "...sucked Mama straight to Harlem," "...was like an island being born...," etc. Due to "Tapping At Mama's Knees" I am wet from being dunked in Jazz. Cynthia hugs me with stanzas and teaches me with art. I appreciate and value her gifts. Peace.--CCFulton

  2. Michelle Maria TweedyApril 4, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Wow. "curled in the hems of silk slips..." Beautiful use of language. "land-locked country boys..." I love poems that make me feel so good that you find yourself reading certain lines twice and just stopping to meditate on what they really mean- I love that feeling.

  3. My favorite part was, "Watching the veins pull notes together was like an island being born." I am so proud of you Cynthia! Beautiful poem, may your talent continue to be blessed!

  4. Wow! Great poetry! The imagery is awesome. I would love to read more.

  5. Thank you, for sharing such a wonderful poem! I heard pieces of my life and mother echoed throughout your poem. I feel this poem so deeeply. There is something about memory, Dizzy, and Charlie Parker. For me there was and remains Billie Holiday "Lady Day". Her soulful pain love soaked words were our heartbeats. One of my favorite lines among many. Mama wanted the dark arms of trumpeters, and Even now on Saturdays when low-strings are bent double. Great words, a well crafted living and breathing poem!