Robin Coste Lewis reads ‘Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten’


Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten

By Robin Coste Lewis

  • 31 December 2018

Once you were a saddle made of smoothed wood— a saddle worn by a stallion— crab-stepping over the sand on the bottom of the ocean. Once you were an omen, ochre and dusted with rust. Or you were just gray matter. Sawdust. But still: everything. You were an alarm clock. You were linen. You were twine—once. You were a fragrant black tin of shoe polish my dead father left, tucked way back inside a drawer in our kitchen. Only you can read this. Black mulberry, marble, glue. Pane of glass. Copper. Wire. Wax. Wild cypress. Brass. I’ve placed all the bones you will ever need inside you. I challenged every zealous god, and nailed each one down—here—for you. Olive tree. A lock of virgin’s hair. Outside I am a bird, but inside I am a boat, a boat in which I ferry our future back and forth between the ancient and modern world. I sleep where Socrates slept: inside a burning tree, spears rushing the door. I am trying to make the wood happy. Every engine in the world depends upon me.

Jack Whitten, Pregnant Owl, 1983–84 © Jack Whitten Estate

Robin Coste Lewis is the Los Angeles poet laureate and a winner of the National Book Award for her 2015 book of poems, The Voyage of the Sable Venus. She earned an MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. She also earned a master of theological studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard Divinity School. She was born and raised in Compton, California, and her family is from New Orleans.