Partus sequitur ventrem | Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Partus sequitur ventrem 
          A Latin phrase that stands for the principle that the children of an enslaved woman are themselves born as slaves and owned by their mother’s master.  

I.  Morning
His knobby six-year-old knees,
his anxious pace as if to keep step
with the questions’ steady overflow:
“Is there a giant octopus in the Bermuda Triangle?”
“How is paper made?” 
“How do fireworks know when to explode?”
No one told me black boys could burn so bright. Wait, 
I am wrong, the dark sky has seen their fire snuffed 
by white hoods’ hatred, malevolent blue eyes in bluer 
uniforms, white women’s screams—all have been match 
to their tinder wood. So I hug my son tight. 
Kiss the curl cropped so close it’s straight. 
My mother’s eye insatiable, he is dessert 
and I’ll always have seconds. Each morning I lick my thumb, 
clean him up good, wishing in vain 
the amniotic sac had dried to armor.
 

II.  Night

His lisp, loose, syrupy-sweet, sneaks into my ear. 
Feel its heat, small source more flicker than flame, 
flanked by arms still dreaming of muscle. 
He claims my squishy stomach the best pillow.
If the security of our locked arms could extend
beyond growth spurts, clocks, calendars, 
to the someone interviewing him, 
to the someone following him in the store, 
or to the someone holding my son’s life 
in trembling fingers poised above 
a phone’s keypads, let my love 
be a note safety-pinned to his chest
—send him back alive, unharmed.
As a black mother in America,
I know my wails are birthright,
pinned with iron, 
penned in ink.


Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint, (Gival Press) winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry.  She is a Cave Canem fellow and has received fellowships to attend the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and Hedgebrook. She is a member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective. Her work has been published in many anthologies including: Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry JamGathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First DecadeFull Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DCThe Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn BrooksNot Without Our Laughter: poems of joy, humor, and sexuality and The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic. Her work can be read online and in journals including: Beltway Poetry QuarterlyDelaware Poetry ReviewGargoyleHarvard ReviewKestrel,Little Patuxent ReviewNatural BridgeNorth American ReviewMER VOXPoetry Ireland ReviewPoet Lore, and Tin House. She lives in Maryland with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children.

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