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River Queen

On a day I am walking with my cane
in Starbucks
the lady behind me inquires,
from her wheelchair,
if I am recently disabled.

How is this open to interpretation?

When the track number appears
next to the name of my train,

I wait a couple of minutes,
avoid the stampede of impatients

—it is always the end of the day
when I limp

into sight & shuffle
towards that uncomfortable space.

Would you have me
confine my slow pace
to the elevator?

I descend
upon the track

a step at a time,

slow the peak of rush, at my back,
to a hush.

My pain occupies space
and I lean into it,

my hips preventing
even the skinniest

from floating past
—my ache

has shushed the river
of royal subjects

who slow their breaths
to the grunt of my scepter.

If I were to look back
and cast a glance,

who would turn to stone?
The last step welcomes me

like a cement throne
O, the footsteps know

you cannot stop the river
and this is what I tell her:

Stop is open to interpretation.


You’d Like To Keep It Casual / Preview of A Slasher

Before you undo my bra

I must admit
I am dead
There is time for all of it

What is said                         What is shed                      What is read

I must admit she won
the breakup
in the final cut

The throat is not the instrument
but the venue,

I say
as you untie my scarf, kiss
the braided scar across my neck

I’m sorry to tell you
the dead do not return for love
though, here we are

I had a choice
when she took me
from behind                           and                                slashed

—to travel North of the body,
but (inside) on the river,
I travelled down—

Is it a second life
if what kept me anchored
were the last words she said?

On the river that grew dark and slow,
I met a boy named Brood
whose eyes gleamed darkness,
whose mouth, too

No words, just song,
I gurgled my solo tune
O, how I have failed

Notes splattered against the wall,
my song spilling blood
across my breast

I must admit I didn’t see God in the room.
Above me, only darkness
Below, me and Brood

As I lay dying
the fibers from the carpet
conducting the truth
about the doors that close and open

There is time for reconciliation now:

What you choose to believe
is up to you,
but I need you to hear

when I fell backwards into the throes of love
I did not know

my suffering was not
the surplus of the body,
but of the soul.

A woman,
trailing a boy,
following a river

I remember, two moons
and Brood’s bald scalp,
which read:

The bud does not fail to bloom
but the white scythe of logic

Until you’ve climbed the river
North of reason
with your Brood,

don’t speak                            the word                       forgiveness
in my ear.

At the end of the river
was a well and Brood sailed back South
softer than he came

and I hungered
not for the pail of love,
but the rope of language.


Omotara James is a British-born American poet and essayist. The daughter of Nigerian and Trinidadian immigrants, she is an MFA candidate at NYU. She is a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow: the Third Place Winner of the 2017 Luminaire Award for Best Poetry, the recipient of Slice Literary’s 2016 Bridging the Gap Award for Emerging Poets, as well as the Nancy P. Schnader Academy of American Poets Award. Her work has appears or is forthcoming in The Recluse, Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Luna Luna Magazine and elsewhere. She has received scholarships from Lambda Literary, Cave Canem and the Home School. Online, you can find her @omotarajames and
Featured image courtesy of Chad Cooper.