Arisa White

Cave Canem graduate fellow Arisa White received her MFA from UMass, Amherst, and is the author of Black Pearl, Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest,and A Penny Saved. Her recent collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened was a nominee for the 29th Lambda Literary Award and the chapbook “Fishing Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won Daniel Handler’s inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates cultural events and artistic collab- orations that center narratives of queer and trans people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Nomadic Press, and is currently an assistant professor at Colby College.


There are those moments when I experience that “most black” when the host
fails to do his job and not greet me as I arrive in the French bistro—I expect a hello
and “How many?” His eyes follow his scribbles, then up and look past me and I need
to check the box for the sake of survival, be aware of the nature of my surroundings—
this is what targets do because at any moment someone’s ready to treat you like a
some form of paper, make you a candy machine. But I will not get caught here.
I’m too happy to meet the person I came to meet and she’s sitting by the pillar
and if this were France, I couldn’t go unnoticed—not with this combination of features.
There would be bonjours. Mine awfully American, but because they don’t see me as
such, they immediately let me know. They want conversation, ask to join me and
my friend and tell us about a bar where internationals don’t go and they are close
and smell good. Their hands gesticulate and passion. She runs her index along my jaw.
The wine glasses filled from bottles and I can’t help but have a cigarette or five. The
sky refuses to slip from its haze and show me stars, but here is her beautiful Parisian
his, hers, and hers.


let it
pickle in that Pacific brine. All the beautiful boys,
with fresh cuts, will wonder over their reflections,
wonder will they ever be red for love. They watch
us watch them and they see us here on the sidewalk
not walking, sitting with our imaginations earthed.
So much bass to confuse us of our purpose,
but it’s the bass that grounds us here. In the asthmatic
hum of that engine, in the purple holler of girls
calling on their girls, the air origamis into flowers,
and there is your question that brings you to your knee.
For once, I understand the perspective of mountains,
that sometimes-hunger to be in the valley, and so I say, I do.


The children are behind locked doors. Metal closed on no
new air. And there is a window that frames them. The jail
looks better than their schools. The order, they don’t get at
home. They’re raised on what-I-want-to-do. Look how she
dismisses, waves away the thought that her mother gives a
damn. Who they’re calling daddy is pimp is the same tiredass
conceit. She is out there, each day, making her world.
On-the-block, around-the-way encounters are the hallelujahs
to attest that “she’s not enough.” Regardless what her mouth
entices, still can’t shake that two-thirds stuff, the ain’t I
woman, too. And eventually there is a pop. There is death.
However, we name the transition from then to now and
again, there is shedding old to make something known. That
these children are not far from their first breath.


There is love that brought you dawn, the sunrise that seduced you from
your linens. You will get used to the impermanence of all things, and
people who say you triggered some hole in their gut that you had no part
in digging. You can be standing there, looking to the clouds to surprise
your eyes, hugging a friend you haven’t seen in years and the joy it
breeds turn you both to galloping horses. Wind is green and heavy with
humidity and someone outside the beauty of your own heart, will take
you from the beauty of your own heart, bring you back to broken
sidewalks, and call you a gun.