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2020 St. Lawrence Book Award Winner

We are so pleased to announce that Kim Sousa has won the 2020 St. Lawrence Book Award with her poetry collection ALWAYS A RELIC NEVER A RELIQUARY. Congratulations, Kim!

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the 2020 St. Lawrence Book Award and send further congratulations to the finalists and semi-finalists.

Kim Sousa is a Brazilian American poet and open border radical. She was born in Goiânia, Goiás and immigrated to Austin, Texas with her family at age five. Her poems can be found in Poet Lore, EcoTheo Review, The Boiler and elsewhere. Her first book of poems, ALWAYS A RELIC NEVER A RELIQUARY, is the winner of Black Lawrence Press 2020 St. Lawrence Book Award (forthcoming July 2022). Kim is currently editing an anthology of LatinxFuturisms, Até Mais, with Alan Chazaro and Malcolm Friend. You can find Kim at kimsousawrites.com and on Twitter @kimsoandso and @LatinxFuturisms.

 

 

 

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Excerpts from

ALWAYS A RELIC NEVER A RELIQUARY

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Gemini Baby


I look for a dark line rising up from my pelvis to my breasts,
for any sign of you holier than the swelling. Not the weight of you, it isn’t enough.
It’s the end of the worst for us, Gemini Baby.
We’re coming up on 12 weeks—that long exhale.
Soon, an ultrasound will confirm the due date.
But I am impatient. Has this been too easy? Hardly any sickness
and no blood—not even to mark your arrival.
You are now a lime. Almost plum. Tail-less, you shed the webs
between your fingers and toes. You breathe!
You are still see-through. Glass Lime Baby, we wonder
if there might be two of you. Tart-sweet citrus baby/ies, are there two heads?
You are a Gemini. We hope for two.
I want my dreams to tell me, but I can only dream of the end of the world.
Black Gemini Baby/ies, it is a broken window world.
I step on its glass again and again in my sleep.
You are growing your genitalia. I’m sorry. Baby They.
Know that, for me, it doesn’t make you. I won’t let it unmake you.
I don’t want to know.
Gender Neutral Baby, what is there to reveal?
We still hold you close to our chests. Not quite a bluff baby,
it has been an easy first trimester. You grow sweet as the sugar cane
I will teach you to gnaw at the root.
But it has not been easy around us, our one body.
One man takes a knee for you, the rest would hang you.
There have been 307 mass shootings in the 311 days of this year.
How can I explain this, Mass shooting? How can I keep the white men from you?
Bilingual Black Baby. Is that duality already enough, Gemini?
Immigrant mother, father on parole. All you will know is impossible love.
I will invoke the ancestors, call upon the healer-women
as I lower myself into the tub. A water birth to open the channel.
I pray a salt-rub rosary for my Great-Grandmother to visit us.
To guide the midwives’ hands. She had a tonic for everything.
I rub a poultice across my belly. Against stretch marks and early birth.
Against whiteness, against racism’s outstretched hands
waiting to catch you as I squat with the doula.
I am not blasphemous enough to hope for an easy birth.
There is already so much caught in my throat, and none of it feels like knowledge.
I want to call you Abelito, son of Mother Eve, first witch.
First woman to throw her man away.
How will we tend this garden, Gemini Baby?
It is a garden, still, even as we find bullets with our trowels.
We will unearth and lift high the skulls of our people.
Mine, a caravan moving like a dream in the desert. Blooming from spilled canteens.
Your father’s, Black boys and men with their hands up, their backs turned,
falling to the ground. But I will teach you the resurrection spell.
It’s simpler than it seems: we say their names.
We unbury, bless and till the earth. We whisper in thanks to any green thing.
We must live here, Gemini Baby. We must ground our feet in this soil, stained
as it is with our blood. We wear it in defiance, for protection.
You will come with spring.
You will be like a spring.






Wire
 
in response to the recent exaltation of barbed wire
by the facist 45th president of the United States
and a certain best-selling novel


We used it to keep the cows out—
or in line. A fence: for vaccines, for dewormer;
to cut a single notch in each velvet ear
when we thought a brand too cruel;
to reach inside mother for calf.
Thick-coated thing. I loved every one,
its reaching tongue wrapped around my child-wrist.
The warm ready udder against my palm.
What kind of unity exists apart from this?
A country can’t know or claim it.
Still wet from her labor, I stomped through termite mounds,
ran with bees in my hair, not stinging but stinking.
The tamarindo tree was The End,
but the land kept growing. Tumbling
into someone else’s bananas.
Of all the trees, a banana’s thirst is most insistent.
And so, it walks farthest, fastest.
Its heart hangs heaviest in oxblood drops.
Somewhere, an old man kept honeybees
in gourds, a perfect perimeter around his house.
Four mud walls, humming and sweet.  
When I say kept, I mean invited in.
My father doesn’t remember this old man.
Only a ghost hand in the yucca leaves
warning him to go. A vision of unbelonging.
It wasn’t our land, he says.
His own father buried, though I couldn’t tell you where.
Sent down the river or led across
by someone more forgiving than Death.
What we once believed walks on
without us, turns to look us in the face
and doesn’t know, will not claim us.
Still, we hear it in the street dog’s howl:
a path to the other side.
One we won’t find in this life.
This is the only crossing, unbarbed.
Unmuddied. The carpenter walked
on bloated water—or water that bloats.
Water can be beautiful.
A body, too.
All of us mud and rib and riverbank.
But never wire.
Cursed corona, it cut
even the carpenter’s head.
And when he rose,
he found it teething
at his still-beating heart.





In which the poem always contains a shark and never a baby

A friend came to visit and said I was only expressing cells—
and the white doctors, too: a body has a way of taking care of these things.
How I cried in spite of the morphine drip. How the contractions came
and never stopped coming—which is to say it felt like they would never stop coming—
until I was no longer a container but a comma
curled in on myself against the bed rail, still white-knuckled
with such unfamiliar pain. Even as I fell away from the room and tore
out the IV, the nurse insisted, No, you never lost consciousness.
And sent me to walk across the floor without those mesh panties,
so that I left a trail of blood behind me for whatever spirit to follow.
And the ultrasound tech with that not-dildo and her cold hands.
How she spat in disgust at the mess she had to clean wiping me down,
wiping me down. I wore the bloody gown home—
what other choice was there, every choice having been taken from me, already—
home to where the toilet was still covered in blood, mine
and not mine. Paloma’s or Joaquim’s.
Because my thinking mind understood that inside me was only a fetus,
but my body, my blood was already Mother—
through the first trimester and swollen with affection and future possibilities.
A love gripped by fear—that I now know was intuition—
reaching inside myself anytime I felt wet to make sure it wasn’t blood.
And when it was blood—ER Visit One—
I hadn’t even suspected, was only wiping myself on the toilet at work.
Had I not prayed enough? Had I not lit every candle?
The nurse, the doctor, said it’s nothing, it’s nothing even as there was nothing
on the ultrasound. Only the sounds of my own washing machine insides,
my own arrhythmic heart. How my blood pressure went tachy
at every insistence to be calm. Just as it was my rapist who told me to relax.
How can I explain the missing time? Maybe the alien abduction
I prayed for as a child, the hope for ascension into a mothership, was a vision
of my grief, of every time I have stepped outside of myself
and climbed higher—but never high enough.
I could never escape the hands inside me I didn’t ask for.
Missing time suggests the presence of another, static from another realm.
So maybe I was not alone in that cold room
and Paloma or Joaquim was carried through the curtain
and across the river by some ancestor—but then, I didn’t make a child, did I?
Not even an infant, only a dark, unknowable mass.
Like the marbles I used to peer into for crystal balls as a child
always hazy. Better to shoot them into the pile.
Like the Gulf, which never presented the shark fin I had seen so clearly in dreams—
not until my sister caught that juvenile bonnethead deep sea fishing in Galveston.
We made peixada with shark meat and buried the hacked head
in the backyard, my sister hoping for the thing’s open jaws for a trophy.
Only, when we dug it up, it wasn’t picked clean
by whatever slept under the earth, but swallowed by it.
Disappeared. Nothing remained but a complicated sadness—
because inside sadness you can arrive at relief.
To not have to look the thing you’ve buried in the face,
to not have to bury the thing at all. To stop grieving a soul
when all along there was only
 

blood.

 

 

 

To the white woman who thought a palo santo stick was a useless decorative object while her sisters drive the plant into extinction and the Amazon still burns

Yes, I guess it’s ironic that Paulo Paulino Guajajara was shot
dead in an ambush by loggers one week ago.
Everything’s ironic to you people, isn’t it?
A sacred plant, a forest steward, a bullet in the brain.
The match strike, most of all.
My father named my brother after Chief Raoni Metuktiri,
but voted in Bolsonaro. A black smoke irony.
He says it’s Our Fascist President’s detractors
setting the fires—not his policies
against every thick-trunked ancestor still rooted
in the damp. Their still-reaching canopies.
Against this earth’s original peoples—you forgot,
I know. There are people in The Amazon.
My grandfather, now only ghost, moving deeper into the forest,
farther out of my father’s mention.
All I know is his name, its own ironic violence: he who is without sadness.
In a photograph red as the water, he holds my father under one arm,
my Tio Fábio under the other, splashing in that great river.
But that’s not for you—
it’s hardly for me. I myself a ghost
in my grandfather’s eyes: white-skinned, unclaimed.
Some gente still claim mestiz* in this, The Year of Our Lord Ablaze.
Nossa Senhora, I am complicit and irresponsible enough.  
My brother, Catholic, dutiful,
will name his baby Gustavo, protected by God.
He asks if I can pronounce this—
I don’t list the tongue trills I had ready for my baby, Little Never-Was.
Fire-Gone-Out. Nights, my skeleton dances
above me: my hips shake off the blood. Still-widening
to fill the room. Castor oil and cocoa butter irony.
Stretch marks and childlessness and soil erosion.
The West was only cracked in two after the Holocaust—
not after its smack-jaw Colonialism,
its Chattel Slavery that stained even the water.
So your Post-Modernism tells us, anyway.
Your art is white supremacy, I’m sorry to tell you.
No, I live to tell you:
this country is only a name
for every other genocide it won’t Proper Noun.
What pill is there to swallow against this?
The anti-depressants aren’t working:
there is no way to distinguish clearcutting trees
from clearcutting bodies.
Recalibrating my reuptake inhibitors now.
What you can and can’t tell your pharmacist
is what you can and can’t tell your lover.
I’ll never say I see things.
The coyote with a rabbit in its jaws in every parking lot.
This country: all parking lots and The Seventh Cavalry opening fire.
The irony. Declaring The Badlands public land.
Setting fire to anything but ourselves.