Ruth Ellen Kocher’s previous books include Desdemona’s Fire (Naomi Long Madget Award for African American Poets; Lotus Press, 1999), When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (Green Rose Prize; New Issues, 2001), and One Girl Babylon (New Issues, 2003). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, and New Bones: Contemporary Black Writing in America. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

domina Un/blued dislocates the traditional slave narrative, placing the slave’s utterance within the map and chronicle of conquest. Charting a diaspora of the human spirit as well as a diaspora of an individual body, Ruth Ellen Kocher’s award-winning new book reaches beyond the story of historical involuntary servitude to explore enslavements of devotion and desire, which in extremity slide into addiction and carnal bondage.

Ruth Ellen Kocher is the recipient of the 2014 PEN Open Book Award for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2013. 

Stealing a Woman in Broad Daylight

Near the teatro di Marcello noon on a very hot June day
A man on a vespa attempted to steal me. Ciao Bella

So obvious. Hello hello. You speak Italian? Yes
You do. Oh a little. Near the teatro di Marcello near

An old church also   Roman columns exposed at its sides.
E molto caldo I say clearly. He nods. Very hot it is.

E molto caldo.

D/domina: G/gnosis

That summer the body forgot hesitation
Wandered mountains    met boys

Whose faces lost soft curves    spirit edged
stubble She called it

tried to become one with it again but    The body
floated afternoons in birch creek pools    cutoffs

soaked through    legs learning skin and skin.
Mornings    feet caked black with culm

The body took paths through waste-land woods
followed her back to the apartment    Her body

hid from its parents    Forgot its sisters    Bathed
each morning as though performing ritual

leaving    Her body knew before she knew
Soon    like hesitation    It would forget return.



It could be that he looked like Caliban.
His flicked tongue intrigued us.

We understood when we saw him:
within us is a spiral that can make
a rock    a tree

And then    besides that small fractal
where we anchored    hitched our lives to a body
our bodies to land

the sea emptied us. Accepted us
in rasp and shudder.

Their bones cannot help
but railroad ships across the sea.
Think of angular and ugly

the ocean floor spiked deep.

If there were flames underwater
they would be black shaped
running bodies
become wave.


Excerpted from domina Un/blued by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Published by Tupelo Press. Copyright © 2013 by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Used with permission from the author. 

Purchase a copy of the book at