Sugar Elizabeth Alexander hand cut found porcelain 4" x 5" x 3" 2013 photo by Darren Stahlman

Elizabeth Alexander
hand cut found porcelain
4" x 5" x 3"
photo by Darren Stahlman



After Your Sentencing, You Told the Judge You Have No One to Blame

Cousin, this earth was not made to comprehend rehearsal.
When your accomplice had finished, the drug dealer remained

sheeted in white on his apartment floor. A shrouded
menagerie of gash, bruise, bullet. The sun fell into its kiln and

dribbled pinks. You knelt on Newell Street—it should have
been to pray. Instead, you peeled off the wad of money

beneath a car bumper and there was no taping it back.
Souls have always been burdensome as wet cloth.

Journeying through Ta’if, the Prophet Muhammad
braved thousands of stones from fists old and young.

Dried blood bound his shoes to his feet. He hid in an orchard
until he dreamt of the sky spitting peach pits. For every city,

there is a god. He doesn’t look nor want like any other.
You lived out of your car, bagged translations in angeldust.

Muhammad’s God pointed an electric finger at Ta’if,
told his bruises, Just ask, but the Prophet begged

for reprieve. Most of this life means hoping
good hands snip free our unsullied pieces. The rest

we tie to little rocks with threads from our shirts. Watch them
vanish in a pond. Standing before the court, Cousin, you are a marble

stepladder. Damnation’s mirage. Your mother’s glowing crescendo.
Of course you miss her. You look like her. She looked like the pearly

sweep of low-tide. Could you trust that she left behind enough
gods who would drop to your cuffed ankles, right here?



My sister swam to the rupture

Hauled my little body
away. At the top
of the stairs, we heard
dishes choiring
their fractures in the sink,
doors framing finales.
Our father’s crowbar
shouts, his car growling
into the street and gone
for now. In the backyard
rocking chair,
Mama scarred the dirt
with sandaled
toes, the sun heading
downhill, tugging,
just her shadow blue
into evening. Should
she have gone along.
This house,
a looted ship.
That framed photo
of a beach nailed
in the landing.
There, wherever:
sand, pine branches reaching off-
camera, custard clouds,
swell of dozing sun.
I took kettle corn
from my sister’s palm.
She held my face
like a porcelain bowl.
Rubbed with her thumbs
those beehive cheeks.
Who have I ever saved.
She promised to take me
to the glowing
It was a lie.
Less so now than before.
Plenty of lies unzip their jackets
in time, but see how she speaks
and my chest balloons
with something like salt-wind.

Jeannine Hiba is a VONA/Voices & Tin House fellow. Her poetry has appeared in The Blueshift Journal, The Offing, and Animal. A spiritualist, Jeannine spends spare time communicating with the ascended, slipping into antique & crystal shops, & patiently awaiting your book recommendations.