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 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.