Zero is the Whole I Fall into at Night


In stock

Poems by

Becky Thompson

Poetry book, 80 pages, $14 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-59948-334-4

Release date: 2012



BThompsonPx_1Becky Thompson, writer, teacher, and activist came to poetry after writing scholarly books: When the Center is on FireA Promise and a Way of LifeA Hunger So Wide and So Deep, and Mothering without a Compass. Her most recent co-edited volume is Fingernails Across the Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS From the Black Diaspora. Becky has been awarded Rockefeller, Ford, NEH, and AAUW fellowships, the Gustavus Myers Award for Outstanding Books on Human Rights, and the 2011 Creative Justice Press Winter Chapbook Prize. She has worked with marvelous students at Duke University, Wesleyan University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Colorado and is currently Professor of Sociology at Simmons College. She teaches yoga and lives with her rock star daughter and housemate in Jamaica Plain, an eclectic multiracial community in Boston.

Sometimes you forget what a poem should do, & it takes a gift to remind you. Thompson possesses such a gift. She tells us, there is safety in the body. She says, there are homes that are made of glass. Between those two spaces is the music that drives a world, the sadness & the tenderness. And then she writes us into Attica, into Beirut, into Tunisia. She writes us into the ache of motherhood, of regret and loss. Thompson captures so much of it, & lets it spill forth with a dignity that dares you to look in the direction it points, and remember “that the gods get lonely.”

–R. Dwayne Betts
Author of A Question of Freedom
and Shahid Reads his own Palm
and is the Program Director for
the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop

Intimate. Lyrical. Sensual sounds animate this first collection of poetry by Becky Thompson. Her poems are a landscape of intellect and beauty. Welcome my dear sister, to this thing called poetry!

–Sonia Sanchez. Sanchez,
Poet, activist, playwright, scholar,
mother of the Black Arts Movement,
and the author of sixteen books.

I give this book of poems–three bows. Thompson writes about a life filled with hurt. She is a witness for the prosecution. She is a woman flying away. She is the last witness and the first lover. Sex is what she kisses before she falls asleep. She is a survivor like many readers and writers. When she adopts a child, home becomes a place of color. Thompson comes from a long line of cowbirds. After the pecking comes the poems. For this we are grateful.

–E. Ethelbert Miller
Director of the African-American Resource Center
at Howard University, author of many books including
How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love’

Mae Hong Song Refugee Camp

And the elder decides, leans forward
in her chair to instruct another on the finer
points of taking a blow: cover the soft
parts, make him aim for muscle, finesse
beating when leaving belongs
anywhere but here, open air
imprisoned. And she decides, luck sped
them from danger the night women
pass kitchen knives to stab if he
tracks her down
no locks on bamboo huts
the women waiting
until morning brings porridge
carved jackfruit for children.
And she decides, sits
with Koreni man with stumped leg
who whimpers after drawing wife’s blood
her eyes the ones that saw village
burn orange then red, black. The eyes
he can’t stand now.


At birth we know everything,
can see into the shimmer of complexity…
and then we forget it all –Joy Harjo

Little white girl in Utah
Indian bones lie close
children play with wire and brass
sing tunes from an ancient ceremony

I crouch to listen
the sun on my back
feeling connections marked wrong
in this land of separation

we move south past
Salt Lake with its sediment
from Native crying
to a town where the white teacher
asks me to draw a Kachina doll
I draw her so small no one can
see her
but me

the teacher sketches an outline
as big as the page
wider than my eyes can see
painting still up on my mother’s wall
like the carved heads in the Heard Museum

twenty years later in a school
of stiff backed chairs
blackboards for erasing
I see the film Broken Rainbow
Hopi and Navajo families
dragged from their Junipers
Big Mountain their basilica

John Boyden the Mormon lawyer
taking from two pockets
one red from blood lost
the other red from no mercy
could be my uncle
a deacon still standing

I wake up
dreaming disaster
crows come to me saying
nothing shall be wasted
we are birds who remove the recent dead
Mormon birds willing to talk
no matter the audience
a grief of generations
runs through me


It starts in my toes
straight up from the earth
up through my calves
swirling swirling
around my knee caps
riding up the roller coaster
of the longest state of my leg
up to my hips
zig zag zig zag
ping pong ball
back and forth
from my hip bone to my hip bone
up to the generations
of my heart, my lungs
up to my breasts
a momentary nestling
then on to my nipples
energy packets
up to my neck
circling and circling
the electrical connection
to my mouth
round and round
to my lips
across to your lips
energy traveling
to the other side of this world.

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