Poetry: mapmaking by Destiny Hemphill

Every body is a frontier of survival, and Destiny Hemphill’s poem lays the map bare. The speaker builds a life out of memories pinned to her body, to the palm of her hand and to her ribs and to her nose—here, she says, is the path to living.


after a photo by Calhoun & McCormick


you say: point yourself out on a map for me. i take your finger & press it

against the heel of my palm. i say: here is the honeysuckle

that mama never let me put in my mouth lest i think that sweetness

was easy to take. it was entangled in the fence across the church

cemetery where three people with my birthday are buried. & to the heel

of my foot: here is the playground where i would make bouquets from dying

maple leaves turned rutilant. it is where i first learned the beauty of decay.

& to my knee: here is the fog that loomed over the battlefield facing

my elementary school. i suspect my tears come from the same water.

& to my nose: here is the porch where i would eat pecans

with my great-grandfather. the night air would smell of water

moccasins & the mothballs meant to keep them away.

& to my shoulder: here is the cotton field

where my great-grandmother almost killed the man

who thought my grannie’s blood would be sweet

& easy to take. & to my ribs: here are the tabernacles

in tennessee & texas & arkansas

that my mama would make out of closets,

still echoing with the prayers

that have kept me





Destiny Hemphill

Destiny Hemphill is a poet and healer based in Durham, NC. She is the author of the chapbook Oracle: a Cosmology (Honeysuckle Press 2018). She is a 2017 Callaloo Fellow and 2016 Amiri Baraka Poetry Scholar at Naropa University's Summer Writing Program. Her work has been featured in Winter Tangerine, Narrative Northeast, Scalawag, The Wanderer, and elsewhere.

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