Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is the author of the chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon, which has been adapted into an opera. Her full-length collections Hurrah's Nest and A Penny Saved were published in 2012. Her debut collection, Hurrah's Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award for poetry and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival.

Tablespoon by tablespoon

Arisa White



I like a little sad and fucked-up and can string together a sentence to lace my neck. When the sirens come waling along, she opens her throat and takes the fire trucks out, set the police cars on the kitchen counter, wash her hands and says, Pass me the jalapenos. I have a taste for spicy and savory, an original abandonment that leaves her distrusting of anyone who wants to get involved with her heart. She stands there, akimbo arms, elbows pointed like arrowheads. She’s always greater and less than her self. Maybe she will settle into an equal place – her brow furrows with way-back suspicion and she wants botox to keep from expressing this need to be mothered.

            It’s worth it because the Buddhist says we are inter-being, that she is me and you are I and I and thou and so it doesn’t make violence easy. There is a moment of pause before you consider bloodshed and this tough nut is a spiritual lesson, a way to figure how to get an efficient crack.

            She’s the kind of exhaustion that makes you feel important, like love is construction and you can point to the back-breaking work it took to build condos in a neighborhood welcoming a new gentry, and you are proud. There are no bonuses and your therapist encourages you to celebrate your successes and I stand in the mirror with a hard hat and reflective vest affirming I am good, I am enough, I am loveable, and take this cod liver oil.

This hard

Arisa White


Why don’t you try something different than your penmanship neat and small or the silence that mortars the bricks for that wall erected in the honor of making the pain go away? That wall put there to remind you you’ve been down this path, this hitting up against is a mental illness, a constant masturbation, an ache in every joint – the bong water as black as your heart can get. You can convince yourself you haven’t chosen this, that blame is your middle name and when you’re called out by it, you’re the furthest from bloom. You’re in the dirt of it, the dark parlor where you are spooned by a wound that thinks you are its child. There you stay, terrified to see yourself sure, no giving forward of your shine, your means are mean, and you desire an end. The suffering now was a suffering then. What is it that you mother? Epic and curvaceous, it has the power to release potential. But with all your light, you stay cloudy, clear from any sky that will awaken you, pull you to your heights. Your fruit you fear to taste, thinking all the earth comes at you this hard.


Ants, Mudslide, and Burning

Arisa White




You couldn’t see the grief needed boxes of tissues,

piles on the bathroom floor, I had a colony for a shadow.


The ants marched down the street, crossing with me,

into the ground, we waited for trains, to the west of the Bay.


They left me to my shopping and lunching, and renewed

their procession, committed to my mourning, when I was done.




I've worn a layer of her close for a year, like a Bible boy who knew a Bible girl–

beget, beget, beget. Did you not feel the leather? Her extra set of buttons was a confession. I convinced the windows they were closets, stepped outside, and became a part of stored-away things and expensive attempts at proper presentation. Did you not feel the elastic cuffs of my costume? The mudslide that was both our sadness?




No explosives from my mouth.

Not a peep on the kitchen floor,

the joint’s burning to end.


Took the wait from my footsteps.

Thought we could spin ourselves

into an easy listening.


Listened so hard, you hurt yourself.

What a room, without my where,

you know it by heart.


Your Familiar Gods

Arisa White


You’re in a town that is a combination of the towns you’ve lived in.

You see, who looks like, your first friend at Sarah Lawrence.

The year when a record-breaking amount of Sarahs enrolled.

You remember those blue Carhartt overalls,

the blonde of her armpits not as dirty as her crew cut.

You call out her name, the name she changed into,

before becoming a drop-out after the Fall.            Jay!

She takes you like silence. Turns her head in your direction

and it’s to look for southbound traffic.

She crosses to kiss a woman’s cheek hello.

You forgot to pack your toothbrush and Jay once told you to            Eat an apple instead.

Now that you are an adult,

you have dental ware that needs daily care,

and you’re the guest at the home of two writers,

living on J Street, with a cat and dog that are spittin

images of the dead pets of your last two exes.

You pet them and call them their dead names.

George pissed your clothes the first night you stayed over.

He got into fights with raccoons,

caused a freak when he licked his enema oils.

Bonanza was another-time, old spirit. Chill like the sun was him,

a collective consciousness kind of gait. He walked off leash,

and would be fined. For the rest of the evening,

you see faces in these strangers, the love for your familiar gods.