Hands Up, Don’t—

Maybe I carry animals in my pockets.

And where you imagine I’ve tucked a barrel’s nose,

lies instead the wet, huffing muzzle of a beast

untamed by my fleshwarm dark. A hunger I thumb

through all of taxonomy to identify: fanged

as a piranha, madder than an orphaned cub. When I disappear

my hands into those twin wilds, they reemerge

claw-mauled and dripping. How delicious, this agony

like pressing a bruise to deeper blue and calling it night.

Allow me, if nothing else, a moment to lap at what leaks.

I have a certain sickness that makes me love 

my freshest stripes, and maybe I’m proud, above all, of this

red touch. Of the way no one leaves my embrace 

with a shirt as white as it was when I first held them.   

My sternum, itself a pocket; my clavicles, threadbare seams.

My gasp catches soft as lint in thick hair. When I die,

I hope to leave behind—more than an unleaded chest—

a viscid stain, its brassy wax. Maybe all I need

is to know you won’t walk away from me clean.

Ariana Benson was born in Norfolk, Virginia. She received the 2020 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize and the 2021 Porter House Review Poetry Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, Black Warrior Review, World Literature Today, Shenandoah, Auburn Avenue, where she serves as Nonfiction Editor, and elsewhere. She is the 2022 Eliza Moore Fellow for Artistic Excellence at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness.