Hotbeds in Norfolk, Virginia

It’s nothing to be woken by the hammering
racket of collapse. To bathe with tap-
drip the tint of hands’ sun sides. Life
among ruins means something is falling
at all times. Means knowing how long I have
to get out from under a spreading shadow.

Today, they flattened the house across the street
into memory—siding panels rotting like rinds
in the yard’s clovers and crabgrass. It’s constant,
the vinyl harvest: red, yellow, pink—all stripped
to the same blanched flesh. To make a space
more enticing, they say. But I was fed
on sweetness sprung up from dirt, and nobody
skins an apple they intend to candy.

O’Hara wrote, once, about Norfolk.
Said to have exercised here—blown
breath into air, here—is to have been to bed
with a Nigra and what a way to admit knowing
a place only by the way it looks from above,
when on top of it, moving in
and out of it at will.

Last week, they erased the turquoise house,
its kitchen where I learned not to play around
the hot stove, where I earned these scars,
the one my love grazes nightly with lips
brown like water, like mine.
It’s impossible to sleep alone
without the voices I know
better than my own.

Someone silenced the rocks
we used to kick down the blacktop, their scrapes
filling the gaps in conversation. Someone keeps
sticking the same pink slips between my locked door
and its frame. Someone sprayed the big weed
that planted itself in the fractured concrete
before we could even bend our tongues
to dub it   flower. Soon, all the wrong green
will be brought to wilt.

Truth is, there are many Norfolks full
of our deep hotbeds, our colorful plots. It’s nothing
to pass one while driving, to speed up at the first
sign of us: the rubbled lot of a First, or Second,
or Seventh Baptist Church, for instance—
the black dust of its crumbling
never allowed to settle. And so you roll
your windows up, tighten your hold
on your breath.
More Poems by Ariana Benson