Black Girl Prayerbook by Alexus Erin



Go to work.

Roll out, tucked in heat of the classroom
Life-gripped to a plastic barre;

a poised middle school saint
is my ballet partner. He is all gauze and no buttons.

The dancing diaspora welcome French royalty, 

Djembe rolling.
Las Dominicanas count shoutdown with Creole mouths,
call jazz soldiers in black 

to soul-clap down to 158th street; 
Bad Bronx is where we last saw our fathers. Its beauty is hedged with long-suffering, 
its inclination to appeal no matter what

much like children.


Go to a show.

Catcall Man in the navy jeep knows I don't like the music he's playing
he croons, c'mon girl and hey mama
Brooklyn makes me tired, Dad; the bend of the hill
trees fat, stilted from fumes.

We're lost
We're looking for an apartment with a vacant lot.
We're looking for a caravan, nestled in the crook of a vacant lot

On Bushwick Ave
the boys are flushed pale with purple light, the floor before us, dusty Hudson River
littered with discarded D strings

the boys slouch in the other half of the room
like a punk rock junior high dance.

All night, 
no one kisses. We just migrate from the center of the pit, 
to the opposite side.


Take a walk.

My friend with the orchid tattoo said, Let the hospital deal with him. It was Holy Saturday.

Last night, I shuffled home from the hospital; Averno tucked in my bag
like a plate of bulletproof metal against the small of an aching back. 

The doctor told me to go to bed.

With a dismissive wave, a woman at the bus stop 
told me to move out of her way.
I stood up, she sat down, Missouri burned.


What are you doing, girl? Asking mercy of a robbery?

That's another way to fuel corruption—asking mercy of a robbery.


Write home to Dad,

to two poets and a choir director

the one who cried after she taught us the Black National Anthem, splayed over the piano, 
thumbs pressed to throbbing temples. Behind her blue eyes, the sepia sight 
of a photograph frayed at its edges by riot fire

JFK: shot,       Malcolm X: shot,         MLK: shot
his body broken into like an enforcer through a sitting-room door in the barrio. 

I imagined Coretta Scott scream,

end a little sermon at the kitchen table, 
laugh and sing while carefully tipping milk into a teacup,

her children, miraculously, still nodding the march beat.

I hope there is time to fall in love while I am nodding the march beat.



Father, you know it all came spilling out.

In class she claimed that leading an ethical life
was dependent on who you were, your needs. She was my friend but she said it right there 
in the heat of the day with the windows open, their latches casting square shadows 
in the center of the room. 
You know what happened next, You were there.
Choking on protest, my hand shot up. 

Morality is relative, I said. Not ethical behavior, not ethics

and then she became those boys in Brooklyn,

the trees in Brooklyn

That night, I wrote her initials down            before I fell asleep.





Alexus Erin is a fourth-year student at Franklin University in Lugano, Switzerland, but originally hails from Princeton, New Jersey. Her first novel was published in 2009. Her poetry previously appeared in Franklin University's Literary Magazine, as well as the American Society of Young Poets. Any free time she manages, she spends choreographing modern dance routines for troupes of children.