bird of paradise + girl with cornrows holding hands with stalk + plot

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Photo by Pauline McKenzie

bird of paradise

and in her best imitation of a palm tree
our heroine will show her muscles
frame her crown
stand on a stone bench to make herself tall
arms stretched wide fingers reaching towards 
each other

and in her stunning resemblance to the nearby flamingos
she will breathe from her belly
close her eyes
and imagine her neck long
her whole body
her wings 

at all

Photo by Pauline McKenzie

girl with cornrows holding hands with stalk 

the small girl
with the macaroni necklace
knows that maize is her relative
she holds hands with a green stalk of corn
belly relaxed in her purple t-shirt
she smiles like a sister

not a farmer
she tends to the corn 
like the corn is her friend
she believes she will one day be so tall
this stalk of corn beacon
omen of growth

so when the raccoons come
and eat sister corn
before the child can greet her in the morning
it is not the indignation of property
that causes her to cry for the rest of her life
it is the first green loss of a life cut short

since then our girl
now an average heighted woman 
in hand-me-down costume jewels
has never truly tried to keep a plant alive
the girl inside keeps whispering
not safe to love in green
look what you lost

Photo by Pauline McKenzie


on the land of bones as dust
generations sleep
trees grow
my father stands there

generations sleep
and i reach for you
my father stands there
and you take a picture

and i reach for you
my tiny hand
you take a picture
but i know

my tiny hand
a tree
it grows i know
i long for home

a tree
on the land of bones as dust
as reach
as trust

Pauline McKenzie is a mother of three and a grandmother of two. She is also a licensed professional counselor, an approved clinical supervisor, and a registered member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. She works for Women and Girls Network® as a specialist counsellor providing trauma focused therapy for marginalized women and girls who have survived multiple forms of abuse. Pauline studied psychology at Boston College from 1974-1976, completed her undergraduate studies at SUNY New Paltz in 1978, and obtained her master’s degree in psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Pauline was born in London and after several decades of living in the United States, she has moved back. Her most recent photographs feature her granddaughters growing up in the city of her childhood. 

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is Pauline’s daughter. She is the author of several books, most recently Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (AK Press, 2020) and Dub: Finding Ceremony (Duke Press, 2020). Alexis is a 2022 winner of the Whiting Award in Nonfiction and a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow. She lives in Durham, NC where she co-creates the Mobile Homecoming Trust living library of Black LGBTQ brilliance with her partner Sangodare. 

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