SECOND PLACE – L. RENÉE

Contest, Crystal Wilkinson Creative Writing Prize hosted by NLR and Pluck!

L.Renée’s three poems were selected as this year’s second place winner for The Crystal Wilkinson Creative Writing Prize.


the bone carrier

my granddaddy used
to tell his children
if somebody’ll bring
a bone, they’ll take
a bone,
which is to say
gossips always have
 need for fresh meat
don’t matter which part,
or put another way
talk with bad intentions
calcifies like any good
femur, the longest
and strongest bone
in the human
body that fastens hip
 joint to knee joint,
source of any good
juke joint gyrate
where a good girl
might’ve heard some bad
rhymes spinning off
the vinyl record
of some jive turkey’s
lips and let her hips
fall into the cradle
of that music
and let her knees
drop down beneath
that alter to praise
its fine symmetry,
how everything squares
perfectly when you add
moonshine and moonlight
and guitar strings
striking chords
so deeply in a body
so filled with aching
they feel like nerve-
endings firing
the kind of heat
 you don’t know
if you can stand,
which makes you want
to stand with it
that much more,
hold the electric fantastic
in the fine circuits
of your diaphysis,
and maybe reach
for the bright plumage
of that jive cock’s neck
to stabilize the shaking
pulsing now through
your marrow,
which some unkind observer
might call stock tomorrow,
carrying your midnight
bone to a neighbor’s front
porch talkin bout how
your family’s good broth
done turned sour.



The Unmapped Place  

Here where the ruby-throated cardinal  
dips her beak in a cool blue pool,  
then flies high to perch her soprano  
on a leafy limb that boosts her trilling,  

here where song can tell you what  
to mourn and what to praise, where many  
a day they be the same, grief and gratitude  
long-distant cousins, where miracles aren’t  

welded to stained glass but dive off  
lapels framing the one white polyester  
suit Mother Franklin sweats through every  
first Sunday, singing beneath the sagging  

church roof, the cave of her throat reaching  
deeply into a pit of sorrows none of us can  
see but know are there, pulling up notes  
like buckets sloshing with well water,  

well-watered tears that drench the ears  
with sudden chills, the witnessing of not  
knowing how she got over, how she made it  
from one Sunday to another Sunday  

in her right mind, when the worrying  
over what she could afford to lose,  
who she could not afford to lose,  
consumed every waking thought,  

until the words gurgled in that gulf  
unintelligible shouts that grown folks  
called catching the Holy Ghost, 
hand made holy in the reaching,  

the lowering down to the sunken place  
that has no bottom, no boundary, no way  
of knowing how close to the getting  
over you are, your proximity to that  

opening that lifts you high, the invisible  
phantom limb suddenly a Go-Go Gadget  
Hand boosting the body out and up,  
slackened from the muck, the spiritual  

body far-flung, sprung loose enough  
to survey the impossibility of earth,  
the red soles of brown feet that molded  
red clay, how those souls birthed paths  

with nothing more than blood and foot  
calluses, blessed assurances, how the leaves  
exhaled clearings from their native trees  
rooted deep in dirt before well-built wells,  

waiting for us to remember our way  
back to to those kin, like Mother Franklin,  
back to the unmapped place where they wait  
dwelling on perches we still can sing from — 



Tradition  

By Saturday afternoon the stovetop needed rest,  
but Mama said there’s no rest for the weary. 
 
By then her hands had already pressed  
spatulas into skillets of sizzling bacon,  

cheesy scrambled eggs, and Granny Smiths  
softening their sour peels in a pool  

of butter, brown sugar, a cloud  
of cinnamon and nutmeg crackling.  

This was our tradition. Full bellies  
after cleaning the apartment until it reeked  
  
of Clorox bleach, until windows were Windexed  
almost as transparent as air, but ours  

tinged fake pine tart as if cardboard  
trees hung bright green from the newly  

glossed wood furniture. And still, her hands  
pressed on, untangling my two-week-old braids  

soiled with playground sweat, dandelion dust,  
fuzzy wayward wisps left by an Ohio wind’s  

kiss as I flung my blue-barretted head back  
to predict the precise velocity  

my hand needed to pummel a tetherball  
so fast a sucka kid wouldn’t have time enough 

to interfere with its perfect spiral,  
like the curled hair I longed for. Mama scratched  

my scalp clean with French-tipped nails  
in the kitchen sink bubbles,  

foaming away stories of my days  
she always asked about. I sat in the back  

of our 1987 Ford Mercury after Latchkey  
and her long paralegal shifts, the navy box  

on wheels barely putt-putted us home, exhaust  
letting out black plumes of smoke and gasps  

like gun shots. Mama pressed her foot  
down on the pedal to carry us to the weekend  

when she cranked up the boombox loud  
enough to hear Mary J. Blige crooning  

about “Real Love” over the hair dryer  
and shellacked my fro with scoops of Royal  

Crown petroleum: dressing down the full shaft  
of my fluff, wielding the same oak-barreled  

pressing comb my Grandmama heated on top  
an old coal stove in the kitchen of her mining  

camp shack telling my Mama, as my Mama tells me  
now, to hold down my ear when she hovers near  

my temples, so scorching brass teeth  
don’t take a bite of my barely-worn skin.


L. Renée is a poet and nonfiction writer from Columbus, Ohio. She is a third-year MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she has served as Nonfiction Editor of Indiana Review and Associate Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. Her work, nominated for Best New Poets and Pushcart Prize awards, has been anthologized in Women of Appalachia Project’s Women Speak: Volume 6. Her poems have also been published or forthcoming in Tin House OnlineAppalachian ReviewObsidianPoet Lorethe minnesota reviewSouthern Humanities ReviewNew Limestone Review, Sheila-na-gig Online and elsewhere.Her writing has received support from Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and Oak Spring Garden Foundation. L. Renée believes in Black joy, which she occasionally expresses on Instagram @lreneepoems 

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