Saturday, February 8, 2020

"Shark Bite" from The World Is Round

By Christiana McClain

Full disclosure, I love this poem for its creative brilliance. Nikky Finney uses the poem “Shark Bite” to undertake the difficult topic of inherited trauma through the consumption of food.

It begins with a cautionary warning on certain things never being consumed. What seems an innocent bite of shark meat, turns into a consumed memory of an enslaved black woman who awakens inside of the speaker’s stomach.

The speaker details the enslaved black woman’s movements and her refusal to sit still or idly wait another death. Instead, as the speaker’s body becomes unsettled by the shark meat, the speaker vomits up the memories of the black woman and others killed on the sunken ship The Henrietta Marie.

In this poem of 22 stanzas with 63 lines, 17 of those stanzas were composed of three lines, 3 composed of 2 lines, 1 stanza composed of 1 line, and the last stanza composed of 4 lines. Moreover, she used 37 different verbs without the reuse of the same word.

This poem isn’t just about inheriting a memory of lived trauma, but of what the trauma imposed on one black woman does to another. Through the differing stanzas, shifting number of lines, and variation in verb use, Finney is showing us the interruption that violence perpetuates. It is non-linear and lasting in its impact.

It didn’t matter that an enslaved black woman died gruesomely years ago, because that trauma will send ripples through the body of another black woman, hundreds of years later. Just like the enslaved woman could not be contained by a ship of those who enslaved her, the memory of her violent death could not be contained in the body of the speaker nor by any confines of a poetic form.

Christiana McClain is a graduate of Spelman College and an MFA in creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is a contributing writer for Cultural Front.

A notebook on Nikky Finney for Spring 2020

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