Author: Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Arts Movements. She began reading and writing poetry as a teenager growing up in the spectacle and human theatre of the deep South. At Talladega College she began to autodidactically explore the great intersections between art, history, politics, and culture. These same arenas of exploration are ongoing today in her writing, teaching and spirited belief in one-on-one activism. She is the author of four books of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, RICE, The World Is Round, and Head Off & Split, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. She has written extensively for journals, magazines, and other publications. For twenty-one years she taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky and now holds the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She travels extensively, never lecturing, always inviting and hoping for conversations that just might improve the human condition.

The Aureole

(for E)

I stop my hand in midair.
If I touch her there everything about me will be true.
The New World discovered without pick or ax.

I will be what Brenda Jones was stoned for in 1969.
I saw it as a girl but didn’t know I was taking in myself.

My hand remembers, treading the watery room,
Just behind the rose-veiled eyes of memory.

Alone in the yard tucked beneath the hood of her car,
lucky clover all about her fee, green tea-sweet necklace
for her mud-pie crusty work boots.

She fends off their spit & words with silent two-handed
twists & turns of her socket wrench. A hurl of sticks &
stones and only me to whisper for her, from sidewalk far,

break my bones. A grown woman in grease-pocket overalls
inside her own sexy transmission despite the crowding of
hurled red hots. Beneath the hood of her candy-apple Camaro:

souped, shiny, low to the ground.

The stars over the Atlantic are dangling
salt crystals. The room at the Seashell Inn is
$20 a night; special winter off-season rate.
No one else here but us and the night clerk,
five floors below, alone with his cherished
stack of Spiderman. My lips are red snails
in a primal search for every constellation
hiding in the sky of your body. My hand
waits for permission, for my life to agree
to be changed, forever. Can Captain Night
Clerk hear my fingers tambourining you
There on the moon? Won’t he soon climb
The stairs and bam! On the hood of his car?
You are a woman with film reels for eyes.
Years of long talking have brought us to the
land of the body. Our skin is one endless
prayer bead of brown. If my hand ever lands,
I will fly past dreaming Australian Aborigines.
The old claw hammer and monkey wrench
that flew at Brenda Jones will fly across the
yard of ocean at me. A grease rag will be
thrust into my painter’s pants against my
will. I will never be able to wash or peel
any of this away. Before the night is over
someone I do not know will want the keys
to my ’55 silver Thunderbird. He will chase
me down the street. A gaggle of spooked
hens will fly up in my grandmother’s yard,
never to lay another egg, just as I am jump-
ed, kneed, pulled finally to the high ground
of sweet clover.

“The Aureole” from Head Off & Split. Copyright @2011 Nikky Finney. Reprinted by permission of Northwestern University Press.