Alison C. Rollins

Alison_RollinsAlison C. Rollins, born and raised in St. Louis city, is a published poet currently working as a Youth Specialist with the St. Louis County Library system. During her undergraduate studies at Howard University she studied poetry under Nuyorican poet and Professor Tony Medina. She is a founding member of the St. Louis City Reading Series “South Grand Lost Poets”.









A WOMAN OF MEANS

Venus Hottentot in a convex mirror
an interior coagulation of disembodiment.

They say that men are more visual & it
is true I can’t see myself from behind.

Can’t curate the archives of these cave walls
paintings drawn with moist fingers and firm hands.

Today a man in a white coat told me
about my insides, read me my body aloud:

Is you is or is you ain’t
my uterus in translation.

The language of anatomy
inextricably linked to word choice.

The autopsy made me aware of the
legless beast wriggling beneath my skin.

Violent sounds of silent gargling, the
hot throb of a breath pulsing the cold air.

You—the fox and the hound, the hunter
pulling the trigger with his tongue.

Wet and bloody at the opening
silver claws and cotton teeth.

Pink goose bumps waddling the lips
a small vice peculiar and wild.

Part my fur to the side
Spirit says I am wolf.

Spirit tells me my blouse is damp with milk
the white mystery of doubt now leaking.

I give you permission to enter—
the opulence of this rabbit hole.

A GLIMPSE OF AN ISLAND

The cuttlefish have gathered in your honor
and I’ve lined my eyes with their ink,
fixed my hair the way you liked the least.
A silent way of saying I have no regrets
no apologies for the wet footprints on the
wooden hallway of your tongue.
A carpetbagger journeying south
to loot and plunder the underworld of bliss.
What shall we call ourselves now?
Found objects in the army of salvation.
Two demons have huddled at the
peepholes of my breasts. I drown them out
with a pint of semen. A jackfruit from the
lowlands in my hands. You owe me this
testimony. I owe you the moon. They’ll
wring my neck by the fire and call it worship.
They’ll scrape the residue from the sides
of my hips and call it desire. It’s no longer safe
to say that I never walk alone. A clown coaxing
laughter from the ocean’s lips. A pair of gilded
fins rocking in the dark. When the water stings
the skin we name it salt. Oval shapes seen
floating in the sea’s blue hair. Toenails washing
ashore like shells. My feet no longer intact.

HOW DOES IT FEEL

Growing up hard or erect
coming home for the first
time, coming round to the
idea it is over, watching
things swell, growing from
the inside out, we are all
moaning in the alley, they
lion fed from dumpsters
the moon unbuckling
his pants, a star on her bad
knees, the sacrifices night
makes for us, say they
make this look easy, say
you never know dark again
say the sun never rises
say tomorrow bites down
with its gold teeth, say my
daddy goes up in flames
his shifty feet and eyes too
close to a white woman’s
perfumed wrists, she told
me don’t hurt ‘em now, but I
don’t even know how it feels

THE DAY THE WOLVES CAME

We waited for the wolves like rainfall
we met them on all fours, appearing
savage and whimsical, appearing
constructed, supplicated and unafraid,
watching their methodical prowl
observing their wanting eyes and
glistening teeth a convex function,
they are feeding on us like moths,
it is feeding time in the porch lamp,
mangled wings and legs splayed against
the artificial light of home, what was it
they wanted, what was it we prayed
not to happen to us, their paws traveling
onward now, onward towards fucking
in the debris, onward to horned animals
and quantum fields riddled with cricket’s
mouths and jingle dancing ants, onward
towards a girl standing with her back to
the woods until she hears the sound of
something coming, onward to her running
towards away in the dark, onward to fresh
ears of corn listening for the end of a
decision tree, onward to where the air is
still ringing with the sound of coming,
onward to the hand of a child
holding out
for
a piece of meat

Interview with Alison C. Rollins by Phillip B. Williams

Phillip: Thank you so much, Alison, for joining me this evening. We’ve both had long days so I am appreciative that you’re sharing this time with me.

Alison: I am very grateful and humbled to have the opportunity. I am a huge fan of your work and am elated to be joining the Vinyl family.

P: Your work is a phantasmagoric, surrealistic feast. I was instantly taken by the worlds you create that straddle between reality and some post-apocalyptic terrain where inhabit the strangest demons and anti-heroes. Before we move into individual poems, can you speak to me about how you got into poetry and, if you can, where you discovered this dark and blistering world.

A:Thank you for the kind words Phillip! I think poetry got into me rather than me “getting into poetry.” Most recently, I have been thinking of my poems as objects growing within me, perhaps think of a kidney stone. It is not always intentional but yet it grows within until it is ready to be passed and that moment can be full of relief and also pain. I sometimes marvel in what I create right along with the readers. I more formally began studying poetry in undergraduate workshops at Howard University with Professor Tony Medina. He introduced me to a world of beauty and truth that I am very grateful for. I was surrounded during my time at Howard by incredible forces such as Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Haki Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni, Mari Evans, Amiri Baraka. It was a very transformative point in my life. Long story short, I have always had a love for language. I like to think when I write I am playing in language like playing in the dirt. I let it cover and coat my hands. I embrace the dirtiness the unclean nature it can represent.

P: Sonia Sanchez is a favorite of mine.

Particular to your work is the sense of a speaker who is fractured and stands strong in that breakage, in those many parts. In the poem “A Woman of Means” you write:

“Venus Hottentot in a convex mirror
an interior coagulation of disembodiment.

They say that men are more visual & it
is true I can’t see myself from behind.”

and

“Part my fur to the side
Spirit says I am wolf.

Spirit tells me my blouse is damp with milk
the white mystery of doubt now leaking.

I give you permission to enter—
the opulence of this rabbit hole.”

Here the speaker is not so much fractured but is, as you write, disembodied, which comes with a kind of duality or self-haunting. There is also the woman figure made animal here, the human body turned beast. Then we get the “Spirit” at the end, another presence coming through to haunt. How do you view this multiplicity of selves, of seeing a self, and how do you reckon with these many ways of seeing, some of which seem terribly painful?

A: To borrow from Helene Cixous in Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, “Our lives are buildings made up of lies.” I find myself grappling with what our bodies and lives represent as contradiction. I struggle with what it means to be a Black woman, what this actually represents. If there is ever a time I own my body. If there is ever a time or space when I can be unafraid of what harm might happen to me. I am intrigued by the great strength of those women who have come before, such as Sonia Sanchez. It scares me the trauma and suffering that some women carry especially as life givers. I think so many of us are struggling to be truly seen, to be truly heard. There are too many people who have yet to be acknowledged even at the level of humanity, too many voices that have been relegated as unimportant or nonexistent. On some level, I am embracing the savage and wild stereotype of black womanhood. I am seeking to command some type of power and validation in the spirit world or in the spirit animal realm. A wolf is threatening and dangerous, I wish to reassign meaning to my body–I wish for my body to be a threat something perhaps not as possible in human form.

P: And the body in your poems doesn’t necessarily seem uncomfortable to be in these multiple selves or even separated from itself in what seems like terrible violence. In thinking about what you said about trauma that goes unseen, in my reading it feels as though you are lifting the veil and showing that trauma in a way that says “Yes, it’s hard to look but look anyway,” which is where the beauty comes in for me. These lines from “A Glimpse Of An Island” stand out for me:

“Two demons have huddled at the
peepholes of my breasts. I drown them out
with a pint of semen. A jackfruit from the
lowlands in my hands. You owe me this
testimony. I owe you the moon.”

and

“[…] When the water stings
the skin we name it salt. Oval shapes seen
floating in the sea’s blue hair. Toenails washing
ashore like shells. My feet no longer intact”

The spiritual here leans toward the demonic, but not necessarily as the dark spirit we’ve come to know but as the “daemon” or nature spirit. They come but we do not know why and they are drowned in semen after having huddled by the feminine word “breasts.” The way you work with the erotic here is interesting. My first question is how you see the erotic and the spiritual working together in your work.

My second question is about the second half of the last line that reads, “My feet no longer intact.” To be devoured in this way or eroded in this way by the sea or the creatures within? Or to be dismantled on land and tossed into the sea? How does this disfigurement play out in your mind?

A: I am intrigued by a culture that censors nipples as pornographic when nipples are a source of nourishment for babies. How do we reconcile this? How do we make an instrument of sustenance one that needs to be blocked out of images and covered? How does that happen? I don’t see eroticism and spirituality as separate things. I think we are striving to truly know and love ourselves and the bodies we have to inhabit this world inside of, we are trying to evolve inside as well as outside of the skin that covers our spirit. I am grappling with this when I mention water as well. Our bodies are comprised of water and a majority of the earth is covered with water and yet there is lack. If the water is not freshwater or purified it burns the eyes, it can’t be consumed. Access to clean fresh water is a real problem for people all over the world. How do we allow this to be so?

I am in the midst of working on a chapbook titled Things of That Nature. It is loosely influenced by Lucretius’ poem “On the Nature of Things”. Within it is he has the lines, “If within wood hide flame and smoke and ash / then wood consists of things unlike itself.” I think these lines speak to how I am troubling the notion of disfigurement. How many different versions of ourselves are we comprised of? How many of these versions are self-created and how many are imposed? Is there ever truth and reality in who we are or at least say and or think we are? On some level, I think we are all engaged in an act of running. From what and from whom I am not always sure. I am trying to work through this notion of running in the line about the feet being removed. Walking upright, supposed evidence of evolution, is a vehicle for motion, a method of escape–a hope for freedom.

P: I think instantly of this from “The Uses of the Erotic”:

“There are frequent attempts to equate pornography and eroticism, two diametrically opposed uses of the sexual. Because of these attempts, it has become fashionable to separate the spiritual (psychic and emotional) from the political, to see them as contradictory or antithetical.” ~ Audre Lorde

Your poem “How Does it Feel” sends me straight to D’Angelo and the video for his song “How Does it Feel,” where he is presumably naked but the camera refuses to go all the way down haha. People talked all the time about wishing the camera would just go lower but when Rihanna shows her nipples or Nicki Minaj rolls her hips in booty shorts then we have a problem. The double standard is so dull and violent. You write:

“[…] say my
daddy goes up in flames
his shifty feet and eyes too
close to a white woman’s
perfumed wrists, she told
me don’t hurt ‘em now, but I
don’t even know how it feels”

Here the shame of desire is so complicated. The “daddy” figure is “shifty” and his eyes are too close to a white woman’s, sending me to thinking about Emmett Till. How do you see the erotic as working differently and/or the same for men as it does for women in your work? Is anyone spared?

A: What an excellent question! There is so much going on in “How Does It Feel.” In one sense, I am playing with the pivotal Black Women’s Studies anthology title All The Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave. I am definitely playing with desire and longing as they apply to men’s bodies and women’s bodies. I think there is a certain type of sexual freedom that I don’t have access to as a Black Woman. I think there are certain aspects of masculinity that I am trying to understand and work through as an ally even though life as a man is not my experience. I tried to muddy the lines of race and sex in this poem and then overlay sexulity with a very nature driven quality–make it seem like work. I am actually playing with two Philip Levine poems in this piece: “They Feed They Lion” and “What Work Is”. I wanted to complicate sex acts by viewing them as work. Imagining the beauty of the stars in the night sky as an act of oral sex done by sacrificial stars on their “bad knees.” I think we need to work harder as human beings to imagine the world outside of ourselves. We can be so divorced from “feeling” even when engaged in the most intimate of acts. I think in this poem I am also lamenting as a woman that I am not ever able to experience power and perhaps even dominance in the ways that men can especially as it applies to sex and yet as you mentioned with Emmett Till a black man can be lynched for his actions as they relate to a white woman.

P: And in the last poem I want to talk about, “The Day the Wolves Came,” I love how you move from the body being eaten to the girl running away from the pack she hears approaching but then end with this child who, hungry, is reaching as though a wolf too. Who is the child at the end with their hand out? I think it is also important to note that the wolves to me, though sinister, did not feel dangerous because the speaker did not run and felt honored to be fed on. So much of this complicates how we usually view not only death but our relationship to being killed. This goes back to so much you’ve already said and this is totally inspiring to me.

A: In a lot of my writing I am trying to work through what we as human beings understand as fear. How we choose to process and work through our fears; how many of our fears are real and/or imagined. I tried to tap into a sort of anxiety within this poem. The girl standing with her back to the woods doesn’t necessarily know what is coming, she just hears the sound prompting her to run. Their is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom and a circle of life. A child with a piece of meat in their hand is perhaps no different from a wolf feeding on a carcass. I think we are all reaching out despite a fear of the things that could happen to us, the dangerous forces that could “get us”. I think I am grappling with perspective here as well. There are many different vantage points: a wolf hunting, a porch lamp full of dead moths, harvested corn, our emotional response is charged with what or who has the right to kill and in order to accomplish what ends. We all have different types of hunger, desires, wants, etc. Who is willing to give of themselves freely? Who has the power to choose to sacrifice their body or parts of themselves for another? When is consent granted and at other times taken against one’s will?

P: Alison, thank you so much for your time! Where can people learn more about you How can they reach you if they want to solicit you for more amazing work?

A: It was my pleasure! My instagram is @modernmrshuxtable . Feel free to friend me on facebook and also follow the St. Louis City Reading Series that I cofounded “South Grand Lost Poets.”

 

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