Naima Woods


Pray for the good live flesh. You pray.
Don’t talk about graves anymore. Think of falling.
Remember all of the falling you’ve seen on the new lately,
            their hands up, their bodies made to fail.
You welcome ice cream and cake and cookies.
Know you should go elsewhere to find sweet things.
Sometimes you don’t have the energy, you want easy sugar.
Turn water into lemon tea. You don’t drink these days.
Grow flames in your belly from all that acid.
You wait for the heat to bear witness, that burn in your stomach.
The violence of our erasure feels enormous,
            and you never got told the half of it.
Your fear of the dead feels familial, like an apron wrapped around you.
Pray for the good live flesh. Amen.
Hope that after all this that you remember how to make good love.
Recognize that there is a chance in the poem
            to be more than an undertaker.
Write down every name you’ve ever known.
Hang those names up in your house and hope it’s enough.
You don’t see the value in looking respectable.
Make a whole new list of covenants. Between you and the bodies.
You promise your bellied heat to all of the names that you don’t know,
            that are already gone.
Promise your poems to yourself.
Make a whole new language for praying grief.
Pick up and pick up and stop from falling.
You see every fear, full and waiting. You don’t run.


I’ve seen fires. They crowned the mountain and that makes them sound holy. How close does a burning mountain make the moon. Can you write a poem about burning these days that isn’t about god. The moon is a god. Does a church wall burn like a mountain. I’ve seen wildfires. Heat rubs and rubs and flames. That’s how mountains go, cooking pine. This poem keeps asking me for question marks but these are not. Can you set a god on fire by burning its floors. No one is afraid of the moon god burning. It’s bloodless, bleached. These are not questions. Look, they burned the floor black. See, they’ve cooked the crosses. Can you write a poem about burning god. Point to the charcoal and say, look.

Somehow the burnings and the murders conflate. My partner asks me what are you thinking about and it’s the computer and its depress. Its little warm bottom heats on my lap and shows me the Charleston news and its depress. I listened to an old radio show where a boy tried to burn a house down and doesn’t—the trucks come too early, the fire barely licks the windows. Is that something different, getting hard from burn, like a power transfer: dust to dick. When the fire keeps him flinting.

The wood is sanctified against. The wood is sanctified and nailed and look at the grain. We are god with the wood. We are not moon god or bible god or man god. We are grown brown and we are grained by our skin’s ash, lotioned again and again. How do they smoke the spirit out of a body. They took the walls and the floor. They took the wood with which we are god and licked its corners. We are not moon. See: how to sift through ashes. See: how they make the street a chimney. We do not wane. The grain needs no house and yet it was a house and yet it is now not. A church echoes. They meant to get the skin’s grain but they only burned wood. They meant to get the god but they couldn’t see it. There is power in fire but not the right kind.


Naima Woods is a writer and educator living and working in the countryside of Southern New Mexico. She is currently pursing her MFA at New Mexico State University. Her work can be read in Nepantla, Blackberry: a magazine, Broad, Specter Magazine, Bone Bouquet, Glint Magazine and elsewhere.