Simone White is the author of Of Being Dispersed (Futurepoem Books, 2016), Unrest (Ugly Duckling Presse/Dossier Series, 2013), House Envy of All the World (Factory School/Heretical Texts, 2010) and the collaborative poem/painting chapbook Dolly, with Kim Thomas (Q Avenue Press, 2008). Dear Angel of Death, a book of criticism and poems, will be published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2017. Simone is a Cave Canem fellow and was selected as a New American Poet for the Poetry Society of America in 2013. She is Program Director at The Poetry Project and Visiting Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at The New School, Eugene Lang College. She lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
An excerpt from Lotion:
Lotion is a palliative. What does it correct? It corrects ash. What is ashiness? Ash is a gray track of evident decay, most striking in contrast with darker skins, brown skins, tending to black.
After bathing, I apply both face and body lotions. After handwashing, hand lotion. In the winter, I apply an extra layer of thick oily cream, too oily for the hands (but good for the thin skin on the shins that cracks in cold, dry weather) to my heels and elbows. Sometimes I notice a black woman unknown to me, not homeless, whose legs or feet or hands are so ashy that I wonder whether she has lost her mind.
Liniments are a second class of lotions, meant to address a deeper set of problems.
I find myself on my knees with some rags and a bucket filled with scalding hot soapy water and bleach. My mother has visited and discovered some scuzz on the stepladder that I am obliged to use for retrieving bowls, pitchers and the like from the uppermost shelves in my apartment. I am wiping clots of greasy dirt from the rungs of this already ugly metal thing, scrubbing also the dirty bands of floor that protrude beyond spaces that “cannot be cleaned” — the edge-of-under the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher, the poorly installed, cheap formica cabinets. Filth. On my knees now, I perform an act of penitence; in that this dirt has been discovered and named and pointed to, I am humiliated; in that suggestions have been made regarding the method of its eradication, too, I am humiliated. Over the telephone, my mother insists that I kneel, of course, on some towels or sheets, folded several times to protect my knees from being scratched or scraped, made dark or scaly from work. “Are you wearing gloves?” she asks. “You wouldn’t want to get an infection. It’s how your father almost lost his arm. They made him scrub the floors.” My father had osteomyelitis as a teenager. A serious infection led to several botched surgeries, all performed while he was locked up in a facility for juveniles somewhere outside Philadelphia. In fights, he used his casts as weapons and never recovered the full use of his scarred right arm and hand. I never knew that, about the floors, I tell my mother, sloshing a rag around in the putrid bucket.
Our crooked fingers are soft, soft, all my parents’ children.
I maintain dominion over the crevices of myself, deep into the layers of my skin, which must never be questioned. Never doubt that these crevices extend toward an infinitely receding boundary. Come close to me to feel it.
Read more work from the 2017 Whiting Award honorees.