TC Tolbert will serve as a guest editor of the PEN Poetry Series beginning in October 2015. Read an interview with Tolbert here

from Word Problems

1. X is a filthy fucking slut. This can be proven by the wear in certain creases on X’s clothes and on X’s knees. X owns you. X is your daddy. X is going to hold you down and fill all your holes up with cum. X is spread out for you and wants you to take it. X is going to slap your face then beat your pussy up.

2. A tree branch, or a broom handle, or a baseball bat is inserted into the anus. X is not afraid. Sitting on the grandmother’s porch, X knows the difference between Kleinian phantasy and daydream. If 72% of the time, this brings X to orgasm (a splitting euphoria in which X’s voice becomes unrecognizable to itself), and 47% of the time this results in a delayed 36 hour period of intense suicidal ideation (down from 68% two years ago and 88% two years before that), when will X be loved?

3. As a child, X favored (in temperament, mannerism, and embodiment) the mother. As an adult, X is the spitting image (a bastardization of the phrase “spit and image”) of the father. If miracle and mirror share the same root, who must X forgive? And who did X kill first?

4. X’s body is covered with 8% psoriasis, 11% tattoos, 23% fat, and 62% hair. If X is a man, how much of his body is livable? If X is a woman, who covered her body with shame?

5. On Monday, X ate a banana with peanut butter for breakfast, a Cliff bar for lunch, and 4 pieces of fudge and 2 Reese’s for dinner. On Tuesday, X hiked 10 miles and ate Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, cashews, an apple, a Cliff bar, and pasta. On Wednesday, X started the day with red velvet cake. If food addiction is twice as likely in women who experienced physical or sexual abuse before 18, is X a woman or a man?

6. X was a sister. X was touched by a family member. Now that X is no longer a sister, how likely is it (12%, 26%, 79%, or none of the above) that X was touched by a man?

7. There are only two kinds of bodies: living and non-living. If X notices the still-wet grass underneath the car, wants to brush it with a cheek, imagines not a place to hide but a space to be pressed (pulled?) across nature and machine. Who killed/didn’t kill X?

8. This section has multiple parts.

X is building a body in the shape of a body. Silence is as dependable as conversation. Though the body’s shape will no longer be southern, X’s body in the shape of a body will always be from the south.
Question 1: Who is/isn’t afraid of the shape of a body (aka a “shadow”)?
Question 2: Who says the most – the body in the shape of a body or the hole in the shape of a mouth?

Given that X is white, X’s body in the shape of a body will also be white. All the men in X’s family own guns.
Question 3: What is the relationship between fear, race, and resources?
Question 4: Who is running?
Question 5: Why?
Question 6: What does it mean to “finish first?”
Question 7: When will white men’s bodies feel safe at home?

X’s body in the shape of a body is currently living in a car. The car is white and has traversed the country twice in three months. This is a choice. X’s body in the shape of a body has masturbated at high speeds, shopped at gas stations late at night, and slept comfortably while parked on the side of the road. X doesn’t understand this word – freedom – but prays it has nothing to do with camouflage.
Question 8: What is it that turns X’s body in the shape of a body into a ghost?

9. A flower in the yard is 3-5 feet tall. Everything about its body is reaching – pink and purple petals shooting out of a collar of finger-like seed pods. To the north is a 48 year old Pine tree. To the west is a Black Walnut and to its south is an even older White Oak. X loves this game. The operators on the Healthcare Exchange all say “yes ma’am.” X is not injured but believes certain words are a protection from injury. What are names: yes or no?

10. Everyone at the dinner table is eating. Sweet corn, chicken and dumplins, green beans, corn bread, and broccoli casserole. Family is code for memory. X’s plate is empty but X doesn’t remember tasting anything. Three questions: 1. How does this relate to the three black boys having an unarmed drunken fight in New York? 2. If one of the signs of a concussion is memory loss, who called the cops? 3. How to expose the secret fear of white people – what if our history kills us first?

11. Church will happen today, whether X is there or not. It could be anywhere. A body will fall down and a gathering of people will reach out their hands and begin to speak a sacred language—the untranslatable smashing of syllables with tongues. The question is not, “Who will say ni****?” Grandfather, uncle, cousin, neighbor. A girl will sign “Amazing Grace” to a congregation of hearing people. We will give the open darkness of our mouths back to her. (X is here.) No one asks God, “Which body, when it falls, will be saved?” We know what we are saying – we are not saying. What is prayer, if not the heart turned loose from the mouth?



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