by Safiya Sinclair


by Safiya Sinclair


Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Wednesday, February 8


Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair's Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile. She evokes a home no longer accessible and a body at times uninhabitable, often mirrored by a hybrid Eve/Caliban figure. Blooming with intense lyricism and fertile imagery, these full-blooded poems are elegant, mythic, and intricately woven. Here the female body is a dark landscape; the female body is cannibal. Sinclair shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke, creating a multitextured collage of beautiful and explosive poems.

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, the Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Sinclair received her MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia and is a Dornsife Doctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803290631
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 09/01/2016
Series: The Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry
Pages: 126
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Kenyon ReviewBoston Review, Gulf Coast, the Gettysburg ReviewPrairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Sinclair received her MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia and is a Dornsife Doctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California. 

Read an Excerpt


By Safiya Sinclair


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-9536-0


Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices.

CALIBAN, The Tempest

The hurricane does not roar in pentameters.

KAMAU BRATHWAITE, History of the Voice


    Have I forgotten it —
    wild conch-shell dialect,

    black apostrophe curled
    tight on my tongue?

    Or how the Spanish built walls
    of broken glass to keep me out

    but the Doctor Bird kept chasing
    and raking me in: This place

    is your place, wreathed in red
    Sargassum, ancient driftwood

    nursed on the pensive sea.
    The ramshackle altar I visited

    often, packed full with fish-skull,
    bright with lignum vitae plumes:

    Father, I have asked so many miracles
    of it. To be patient and forgiving,

    to be remade for you in some
    small wonder. And what a joy

    to still believe in anything.
    My diction now as straight

    as my hair; that stranger we've
    long stopped searching for.

    But if somehow our half-sunken
    hearts could answer, I would cup

    my mouth in warm bowls
    over the earth, and kiss the wet dirt

    of home, taste Bogue-mud
    and one long orange peel for skin.

    I'd open my ear for sugar cane
    and long stalks of gungo peas

    to climb in. I'd swim the sea
    still lapsing in a soldered frame,

    the sea that again and again
    calls out my name.


    Father unbending father unbroken father
    with the lowhanging belly, father I was cleaved from,
    pressed into, cast and remolded, father I was forged
    in the fire of your self. Ripped my veined skin, one eyelid,
    father my black tangle of hair and teeth. Born yellowed
    and wrinkled, father your jackfruit, foster my overripe flesh.
    Father your first daughter now severed at the ankles, father
    your black machete. I remember your slick smell, your sea-dark,
    your rum-froth, wailed and smeared my wet jelly across
    your cheek. Father forgive my impossible demands. I conjure you
    in woven tam, Lion of Judah, Father your red, gold,
    and green. Father a flag I am waving / father a flag I am burning.
    Father skittering in on a boat of whale skeleton,
    his body wrapped in white like an Orthodox
    and his nest of acolyte women, his beard-comber, his Primrose,
    his Dahlia, his Nagasaki blossom. Mother and I were none of them.
    Father washing me in eucalyptus, in garlic, in goldenseal.
    Fathering my exorcism. Father the harsh brine of my sea.
    Making sounds only the heart can feel. Father a burrowing
    insect, his small incision. No bleat but a warm gurgle —
    Daughter entering this world a host. Father your beached animal,
    your lamentations in the sand. Mother her red bones come knocking.
    Mother her red bones come knocking at the floorboards,
    my mother knock-knocking at his skull when he dreams.
    Scratching at your door, my dry rattle of Morse code:
    Father Let me in. With the mash-mouth spirits who enter us,
    father the split fibula where the marrow must rust —
    Father the soft drum in my ear. Daughter unweeding
    her familiar mischief. Mother jangling the ribcage: I am here.


    Sunset. That blood-orange hymn
    combusting the year, nautilus chamber

    of youth's obscurities, your empty room
    for psalms, lost rituals. There find the bittersweetness

    of one's unknown body, heliotropic:
    Welcome, stranger of myself.

    Consider the Jumbie bird clanging its deathshriek
    like a gong, shooting through our mapless season,

    unnaming the home you're always leaving,
    scattering the names we have lost again.

    The heart and its bombshell
    bespeak the hurricane —

    what has drowned, has drowned.
    She will not return. The headless sky

    unseals and aches for us, mother and sister
    caught upon the steel hook of its memory.

    Wet mouth of my future body, we've come to understand
    each word, and how sometimes the words

    themselves will do. Obeah-man, augured island,
    I am called to remember the burning palm

    and the broad refuge of the Poinciana tree.
    Dear Family, how willingly I pushed my feet

    into the hot coals of your lamentation.
    Jamaica, if I wear your lunacy like a dark skin,

    or lock this day away in the voodoo-garden
    of our parting, know that I still mimic your wails,

    knee-deep in beach, know I am gouging the stars
    for any trace of ghost. For the algorithm

    of uncertain history. The simple language
    of our cannibal sea. If Grandfather,

    your wandering fishermen still recast
    their lives down on the disappearing shore,

    know I too am scorching there.
    Igniting and devouring

    each abducted day.


    In this wet season my gone mother
    climbs back again

    and everything here smells gutted —
    bloodtide, sea grapes in thick bloom,

    our smashed plates and teacups. Dismantling
    this grey shoreline for some kind of home, scared
    orphans out bleating with the mongrels,
      all of us starved

    for something reclaimable. What chases them,
    her barefoot rain, stains my unopened petunia, shined
    church shoes, our black words, our hands.

    I'll catch the day creep in, her dirt marking my father's
    neck, oil-dreck steeped dark to every collar,
    her tar this same fish odor I am washing.

    I know I am one of them. The emptied:

    How night comes raw, open-wounded,
    her gills wafting in the iron's heat, sea's marrow
    unrelenting, my heart one coiled mass

    and sweating. I scald a ritual cleansing.
    White poui tree of my youth
    stripped bare, her burned hair,
    what starched pleats of uniform.

    My skin a red linen pressed through with salt.
    The house. Even the body burns.
    Carbolic disappearing; scrubbed pink into fingernail,
    a prayer, bone of coral

    scraped, kneaded
    into breasts and thighs.
    Frankincense and swallow a bar of soap.
    But no washing will avail me
      of this ghost.

    I smell her at school and sulk my head
    into the sand, watch my body carve
      this resurrection —
    its dull gleam of scales, a new ache:

    For salt, for sea grapes, her brown flesh
    sucked down like a thumb. Sun and snapper-eye
    sucked out, her spine like a straw.

    I cannot help myself.

    Her keen and shadowing.
    My hair still tied in her old handkerchief.
    Pray, pray she is not here today.

    Teacher, unbeliever. Chasing me home
    to wash myself. Last week's daughter,

    twelve years old, heart still for sale.


    Out here the surf rewrites our silences.
    This smell of ocean may never leave me;
    our humble life or the sea a dark page

    I am trying to turn: Today my mother's words
    sound final. And perhaps this is her first true thing.
    Her hands have not been her hands

    since she was twelve,
    motherless and shucking whatever the sea
    could offer, each day orphaned in the tide

    of her own necessity — where the men-o-war
    ballooned, wearing her face, her anchor of
    reaching, mooring for any blasted thing:

    sea roach and black-haired kelp, jeweled perch
    or a drop of pearl made with her smallest self,
    her night-prayers a hushed word of thanks.

    But out here the salt depths refuse tragedy.
    This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic —
    here what was cannibal masters the colonial

    curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
    sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
    her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,

    trying to remember the face of her own mother,
    our island, or some strange word she once found
    amongst the filth of sailors whose beds she made,

    whose shoes she shined, whose guns
    she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
    ricocheted in her brain. Still that face she can't recall

    made her chew her fingernails, scratch the day down
    to its blood, the rusty sunset of this wonder,
    this smashed archipelago. Our wild sea grape kingdom

    overrun, gold and belonging in all its glory
    to no one. How being twelve-fingered she took her father's
    fishing line to the deviation, and starved

    of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
    until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
    askance and blooming, reminding her

    that she was still woman
    always multiplying
    as life's little nubs and dreams came bucking up
    in her disjointed. How on the god-teeth

    she cut this life, offered her hands and vessel
    to be made wide, made purposeful,
    her body opalescent with all our clamoring,

    our bloodline of what once lived
    and will live and live again.
    In the sea's one voice she hears her answer.

    Beneath her gravid belly
    my gliding hull
    a conger eel.


    I too am gathering the vulgarity
      of botany, the eye and its nuclei for mischief.

    Of Man, redacted I came, am coming,
      fasting, starving carved

    myself a selfish idol, its shell unsuitable. I, twice
      discarded, arrived thornside, and soon outgrew

    his reptilian sheen. A fine specimen. Let me have it.
      Something inviolate; splayed in birdlime,

    legs an exposed anemone, against jailbait August,
      its X-ray sky. This light a Gorgon-slick, polygamous

    doom. And God again calling much too late, who
      aches to stick an ache in my unmentionable.

    His Primal Plant remains elusive —
      Wildfire and pathogen, blood-knot of human

    fleshed there in His beard. How I am hot for it.
      Call me murderess, a glowing engine

    timed to blow. Watch it go with unjealousy, shadow.
      Let me have it. This maidenhead-primeval

    schemes what ovule of cruel invention;
      the Venus-trap, the menses.

    And how many ways to announce this guilt: whore's nest
      of ague, supernova, wild stigmata.

    Womb. I boast a vogue sacrosanctum. Engorging
      shored pornographies, the cells' unruly

    strain, rogue empire multiplying for a thousand virile
      thousand years; my wings pinned wide

    in parthenogenesis, such miraculous display.


Caribbean thyme is ten times stronger than the English variety — just ask Miss Queenie and her royal navy, who couldn't yank a Jamaican weed from her rosegarden that didn't grow back thick, tenfold, and blackened with the furor of a violated man. The tepid American I sank with my old shoes over the jaws of the Atlantic could never understand the hard clamor of my laugh, why I furrowed rough at the brow, why I knew the hollow points of every bone. But dig where the soil is wet and plant the proud seed of your shame-tree; don't let them say it never grew. Roll the saltfish barrel down the hill, sending that battered thunder clanging at the seaside moon, jangled by her long earrings at our sea, ten times bluer than the bluest eye. That mint tea whistling in the Dutch pot is stronger than liquor, and takes six spoons of sugar, please — what can I say, my great-grandfather's blood was clotted thick with sugar cane and overproof rum; when he bled it trickled heavy like molasses, clotted black like phlegm in the throat. Every red ant from Negril to Frenchman's Cove came to burrow and suckle at his vein, where his leg was honeyed with a diabetic rot, and when he caught my grandmother in his wide fishing net, he served her up cold to his wild-eyed son: "Mermaid on the deck."


Excerpted from Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair. Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


In Childhood, Certain Skies Refined My Seeing
Fisherman’s Daughter
Portrait of Eve as the Anaconda
Dreaming in Foreign
Family Portrait
I Shall Account Myself a Happy Creaturess
After the Last Astronauts Had Left Us, I
Notes on the State of Virginia, I
America the Beautiful
Another White Christmas in Virginia
One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro, with Complete Proof, I
One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro, with Complete Proof, II
One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro, with Complete Proof, III
Notes on the State of Virginia, II
White Apocrypha
Notes on the State of Virginia, III
Notes on the State of Virginia, IV
Elocution Lessons with Ms. Silverstone
Notes on the State of Virginia, V
Litany for Charlottesville
Notes on the State of Virginia, VI
Prayer Book for Vanishing
Good Hair
Woman, Wound
Woman, 26, Remains Optimistic as Body Turns to Stone
How to Be an Interesting Woman: A Polite Guide for the Poetess
Birthmark, or Purifying at the Sink
Little Red Plum
Center of the World
After the Last Astronauts Had Left Us, II (Laika)
How to Excise a Tumor
August Ghost
A Separation
In the Event of the Last Unhappiness, Return to the Sea
August in the Country of Another
The Art of Unselfing
Crania Americana

Customer Reviews