Squirrel Hill

“With the pain of the dispossessed, the dark dreams of the child who sleeps with hunger—I have learned: this Earth does not belong to me alone. And I have learned, in truth, that the most important thing is to work, while we still have life, to change what needs changing, each in our way, each where we are.”
       — Amadeu Thiago de Mello
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Sarah Williams-Devereux

PHOTO: Sarah Williams-Devereux

Sarah Williams-Devereux is a transformative language artist. Her poetry has been published in Sampsonia Way Magazine, Pittsburgh City Paper, and Pittsburgh Love Stories (The New Yinzer, 2004). She has been a featured poet on Prosody, the WESA radio program dedicated to the work of contemporary writers. She is a member of the Transformative Language Arts Network’s Leadership Council. She also teaches poetry for the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University. She is the co-author of the research monograph Our Stories, Our Selves: A3P: The African American Arts Project: A Study of African American Young Adult Arts Participation (PITT ARTS, University of Pittsburgh, 2006).

Search and Rescue

When you wander in the unlit woods,
when you stray too far
from your own path,
remember the knapsack of history
that lives on your back,
the stories that are yours and yours alone to carry—
your father's ashy, crooked feet, bowed by poverty,
your first fresh peach after days of dry, dead apples,
your uncle's dried blood on your mother’s
porch, his bottles of piss in the attic,
your new husband's cock in your mouth,
the taste like the first summer sweat—
they are flint and tinder to spark fire,
iodine tablets to treat foul water,
as light and warm as silver space blankets.
These joys, these disasters,
these wild hurricanes of love and relief,
they are Swiss Army knives with millions of blades,
hatchets and fishing line, field guides to
the plants of your soul, to distinguish
between the poisonous and the medicinal.
A first aid kit. A flashlight.
A flare gun, to signal
the rescuers who are yourself,
a helicopter on the third day of being lost,
rope dangling in the whipping wind, a voice
crying out—grab it,
you're safe now, we'll pull
you up—

and up and up,
past the old trees into
the new, white light.

She is six years old. She is birch brown with 3 pigtails. She is safe
& protected. She is seen & heard. She wants to break out of the picture.
She is a shattering with a very large hammer. She is a shifting, a breaking
of the sound barrier, a bolt of cotton wrapped in silk. She carries their insults
around her waist in rolls of fat. She is skinned of knee, purple of dress.
She is defended. She is indigo, she is dancing, she is feet don't fail me now.
(You will never be killed again / I won't let them kill you again / I promise)

Trashing the Dress
After Toi Derricotte's the undertaking
After their service, some women destroy
their wedding dresses.
Frolic on riverbanks, wrestle in mud

Stain their silks with blood and earth,
strip down to their skivvies,
set their once-white dresses on fire.
Burn it all down, they think.
Rip it to shreds.
The dress, the rings, the dreams.
Nothing is sacred here
but the act of saying
before friends, before God,
the unbreakable connection
between bodies and blood.

After your service, the feast day
of St. John, the first blizzard of the year,
the nearly empty pews
adorned with evergreens,
I make snow angels in the parking lot.
Still in my funeral clothes,
I press my body into the snow,
slush seeping through my skin,
soaking me to the core.
I stare through the falling
snow into the open sky,
swing my limbs back and forth,
trying to make something divine.