The blow came unseen,
an invisible fist
shattering my jaw.
I spat my teeth into the dusk.
It swallowed those hot white fragments;
then it retched, pelting the earth like
a priestess casting bones.
I sifted them from the dust and
examined them in my palms:
gifts, ossified words,
a corporeal command rendered
by obscure, violent means;
the command of a god
who had lost patience with me.
Embedded in the smooth translucence of bone,
mysteries and grooves and
secrets and roots
pointed at me, reached for me and
their fleshy pink beds where
they once gripped tissue and nerve, and
burrowed into my spine,
now calcified like pearls, silenced,
desperate to be plucked from the depths
and strung on a length of crimson wire
for all to see.
(The first tooth is old and gnarled.
I was nine and in a bookstore.
A faceless man
sneaked up behind me
and jammed his dirty hands under my skirt.
The next tooth is splintered nearly in two.
I was seventeen and in the entryway.
I clutched my mother’s favorite knife,
worn and blunt with use,
as my father threatened to break down the door.
Another tooth is stained at the root.
I was twenty-three and in my kitchen.
I wept for my dead and, over the sink,
drained a bottle of venom
to deaden my strength.)
I set my teeth all in a row
one by one, bone by bone.
With obedience, they waited at attention,
glittered black with my blood, and
watched the heavens with eyeless faces.
The sun sighed and slipped
beneath the earth’s curve and
the bruised sky grew somber with
something like acceptance and
the stygian night rushed upon me,
immersed and consumed me.
Now I sow my teeth
in tombs of volcanic soil. I wait,
my blackened fingers pressed to my lips.
I don’t know what I’ve planted here,
but I am certain
for me they will rise with the sun,
fully-formed and wild with
armor-clad and vicious with
Susannah Russell is an editor, writer, and blogger living in Houston, Texas. She has a terrible book-buying addiction. She watches too many horror movies and reads too many scary stories, which she discusses on her blog, Stories for Ghosts. She will be published in the first issue of the forthcoming UK magazine Suspira. She is currently working on her first novel.
Which historical rebel does Susannah wish had been a literary writer, and why? “There are so many! Right now, I’d say Harriet Tubman, a fierce and savvy woman for the ages. Simply put, I admire her fortitude, tenacity, and bravery. Of course, I learned in school all about her legendary contribution to help slaves escape to the North via the Underground Railroad. But I didn’t know until quite recently that she was one of the best spies the Union Army had during the Civil War. Furthermore, she helped plan and lead the raid at Combahee Ferry, a Union operation that freed over 700 slaves and laid waste to Confederate plantations and rice mills, all under the cover of night. After the Civil War, she was an ardent supporter of women’s rights, particularly the rights of black women. Her tireless quest to lift up marginalized people and tear down poisonous institutions inspires and challenges me. Despite significant personal risk, this woman fought the unfathomable injustice she had witnessed her whole life.
“I can only imagine the power and gravity of a literary work by Harriet Tubman, and the lessons we could learn.”