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Cynthia Manick

When You Learn to Be a Lady

On summer mornings you crave—
blackened foot heels
and backyard lakes, water
shrinking barrettes
to an almost-paradise
crown of four little knots
on your head. Layers
of dirt from days
of playing so hard
you sprawled, a dizzy
starfish with five points
ready to slay– mongrel
trees, trap dragon hide,
or moonwalk with cherry
blow-pop mic in hand.
But then one day
an older Aunt says–
girl you better clean
those dirty feet so
the devil don’t know
your name
. Putting a lid
on thirst, you copy grace
from church ladies, TV’s
Phylicia Rashad, and Kim
Fields as best friend Tootie.
Turn to bottles to smooth
hair-line edge, stockings
baptized, and folded lady legs.
Be glossy-lipped, use Dark
& Lovely
until you learn
to lean into the earth
only in dreams.


Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, St. Ann’s Review, and elsewhere. She serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing and curates Soul Sister Revue. She lives in Brooklyn.


See full list of 2016 Emerging Poets Fellows