L’Siren,” says the Frenchwoman, sliding a faux

ivory bangle engraved with a mermaid on my wrist.

I run a thumb across fin and scale until I come to her

face: full lips, round nose, hair dreadlocked. I recognize

her face, balance her many names on my tongue: Mami

Wata, Yemaja, River Mama, Oshun, L’Siren. Full breasted,

black and ivory, a mermaid in metamorphosis. She is not

caricature like colonial depictions of blackness pulled down

from attics and brought to this market: red lipped, bugged

eyed, coal black. She is allowed beauty. I consider how it is

to whip between worlds, consider my own body, skin some

say makes me “ambiguous,” in a tone that tells me the word

is synonym for their discomfort. I buy the bangle for a few

euro, keep it on as I swim into the cold Mediterranean

basking in the space between those continents, breathing sea.


Shaped into a Kind of Life



A Golden Shovel, after Lucille Clifton 



After a beating, chest heave, and an I won’t 

do it again sung through gritted teeth spelling I hate you.

After, I could count the welts and celebrate—


I still had breath to sob, didn’t I? With

my mother/aunt/uncle’s mantra this hurts me 

more than it hurts you dripping from what


ever belt, brush, shoe, spatula I 

had put into their hands to have

them imprint object on my me shaped 


by hands that could bake or bruise, shaped into

compliant child, seen and not heard, a

bud of rage began to blossom. A kind


of blaze, of scissored heat beneath scalp, of 

jaw clenched, breeched nuclear core of a life.

I caught the memo: anything weak was target. I


remember grabbing the little girl’s wrist, I had 

no gentle in my glare. I quaked with the fear in her. No

longer object, but an actor—I could give pain. Model-


ing myself momentarily after de Sade, cruelty born

of soulless ribcage, heavy stomach, broccoli in 

her teeth still, eyes brimming, I brought her to my Babylon.



(This is my body—)


naked arms      sagging jowl

         knuckle pop

cystic breast    tilted uterus 


when I have stood naked before mirrors

when I have twisted before mirrors

both pleased and mortified by my abominable

body, firmness giving way to wrinkles, pimples 

to chin hair, dust to dust


I’ve wished my body invisible                 as if 

this were possible for a woman with my face 

in this country


when I wish I had not said what I’ve said                                                    

(which is most of the time when I say)


I wish for my body to fold in on itself

bones rice paper 

until I am small enough to slide

into pocket until I am small enough

to slide into my womb


free from acrimonious reproduction of the self, 

disappearing into ever-vernal continuum


      broken for you


Amy M. Alvarez’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, Rattle, The New Guard Review, and elsewhere. Her poem “Alternative Classroom Senryu” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine and is a VONA fellow. Originally from New York City, Amy currently resides in Morgantown, WV, and teaches at West Virginia University.

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