Dear Cyntoia Brown

francine j. harris

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

I am having dreams of making love to my own mirror and the guilt.
You are so tough, I wonder who you’ve explained the time you mind
in and the sundance you miss. In other words, I think about you.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

I wonder when you push at mirrors, if they slip off in your hands. I would
like to hold you, who you were at sixteen with the you I was when I was


I wonder if I would let me kiss my own
mouth. I have to be alone now. My lips
are left alone on my face. Did you hold still for them like
I held still or did we wild it how
they wanted it I wonder 

what you’d think of my letters. 

It’s not really a choice we make is it. Your eyes
are dear. Your hair is soft
and brown. Everything about you is the pinprick
of a girl in the dark. You say things
plain. Fact in the dark. I want 

to know if I should send you my wrists. What
more is there to lose?

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Your voice is under my throat at night. I thought
it was kindness; it’s not. I want to sit next to you.
Somewhere on a green screen so we can lock fingers
and you would put the chewed 

gun in my mouth. I don’t want to 

make this complicated, but now there’s no color
like the screen. That must mean we are nowhere. Standing on a buzz.
standing on air. standing on a radio antennae. You are
unbraiding my hair.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

If I could send you anything
it would be a path into the sugarbushes. Rough petal. Honeypot.
Because I figure neither of us have been to the Western Cape.

Or I could send you a dried flower I picked from a Missouri garden
because it would get to you quick. Which would you prefer? Or
I could send you a letter full of implication, or I could just

leave you alone.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Recently I found an article about light pollution. Out here we complain
of too much light. An inundation of light in the sky at night. The manufactured bulb, wattage,
electric lamp in the sky at night. It floods the stars. We squint at night.

That’s not quite true, Cyntoia. The ones who were invisible, darling were everyone else

                             who were not in Ellison’s snatched lit stage. I would hold you and shield
your eyes in the day. I would walk you across the street. We would knock
on the neighbors’ doors and ask if we could bake them bread.     It would be a joke, you see

because of the light, either way. It would be a stupid joke.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

There are so many options at the grocery store. Too much salt in the soup. I want
to feed you fat. To skim the drippings and cool it with a blow over the tongue and drip
salt broth on your knuckles while you warm your knees at the fire. I wonder
if your expression would change. I suppose I’d be ok if you
punched me in the face.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Between our breasts, where we’ve tucked knives and wished they were
icicles, because that would be brave, so cold. I could tattoo a pistil there would
you let me. and grow wild parsnip or lulu bells. Someone named a flower

after a woman’s house slippers, and that seems like

a good thing to send. Could you wear lady slippers if
I picked them out for you from JCPenney. with the soft slipper pads on each feet, and I wonder
when you decided to let the walls open up around you. when you first breathed in full

and fixed the room into a room. I heard today they closed down

another store.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

I will call this one: Dream of the Bottom Bitch because
what will she get for it? If half-carried, half blown, the bitch is kicked 

                up and around:           the glitter of crayons and carnival

now deflated and slag on the floor. What has become
of the helium wasteland, her roiling and spit,
thong and reminder of tights with cum in the slit and split
seams bragging berry lips and gold flecks of
eyelash stuck, aren’t we?

forever cast inside the mold of a puffy lip. 

That imprint is hollow like it.
in our balloon mud.

hallow and eyeless. All you can make out
are its dug-out fins.


The truth is:

there is no parade.
no dodge across construction paper cut up
in the cut-up sky.


march and march, still march the sheets in my sleep

     pussy. unadorned.

floating near the bottom of crowds.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

The dugout is empty.
The noise of empty gloves on the field in the dark.
The catcher’s hip is broke.
The pitcher’s black hallelujah swing ditched.
Bullet hole for an eye missing. Black hole for a missing front tooth.

The umpire’s empire. He’s holding a dead dog in middle field.
Her umber fur awash down in the absence
of stadium lights.

If he cries there, at least under the wire scrim mask.
But once removed, it’s so plain of course, to see
it’s you. With your hair 

hidden by scissors.

Only you could have the frame of remove, the still of mind
to strike out all the dead players
and call an injured field, to get them
limping along.

and lay out the dog along the fence.
and pick off the gravel and stone from her mane.


Dear Cyntoia Brown,

It always bothered me, even as a girl, when people called me princess.
I couldn’t say why. I, like other yellow girls …

well, there were ponies and castles and moats and glass slippers
to want. But we’ve always known, it seems
the man growing up inside me, bucking forth
by then, a steeled and swagger little stud, with
weeds of hair and playground glass

in his knees, and a dirty mouth. Oh
it comes from somewhere, doesn’t it, the quick
pretty cane 

to fix a quick lip.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Missy Elliott is on twitter now. Her moves are timeless.  

Jean Grae had a sitcom
for awhile. Her tats

ever against the world in words and how few care about her joy. The pulled drum along 

like a gun, a teeth-baring dog, an age at which
The rhyme is a bodyguard, a body blockade, its chain

linked rhythm against intrusion. 

If only we’d become
                  freestylers. Queen Latifah is wearing
                  her hair out.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Jeanne Lee made it as far as Tijuana. Like all vocalists, it’s the isolation

                  standing with her upright. She is up tall with it, the sweatlight on her face. 

Bass players remember her fondly
if lovers ever really loved that way. Walking off trumpets after dinner the way they say
trying to lose a harp in the sky. 

                   a lump of sugar
                   tilt my womb ‘til it run.

Who did we sync with. sitting tipped clarion on the line, with him telling us
                  love a gun tucked away for rain. The day it sat for me

                  between us there was love. The way they say. Clipped into the wet.
                  Who were we most intrigued with, in the corner where the blame leaks
                  in, the blasé big daddy        shot 

                   sperm into me. But never set me free.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

It’s not that I wish I were dead.
I wish the wish weren’t such a big deal. 

smack against the flat clarity of windows, you’d think the cliché would get
its own joke. Wheels 

in motion.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Sometimes the belly, fat
bearded chin of a woman’s
chin, puffs itself up.

Do you ever curl into a worm
some ball of milk and memory.

Which women are there in it? If not
the blues of her mirrored demeanor

then a face to match your play.

If she fold up her belly in a nightgown
do you touch stomachs – or do you
find that thought too lonely?

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Make steak how I make it and the air is thick with the smell of cumin. Spit
at heat the wrong way, it smells a lot like sex, or
the otherwise pheromone of someone leaving the room. My letter

is not in the mail. It was never prettier than you. But now who’s come
to believe her skin is the outdoor of the mail lady

when she stomps through engine snow, or the grey of her
blue pants when compared to the sun on snow, or the grey of her
patdown, the trucks of worn cap and security, these letters may not

reach you before they ever get off the wintry ground, do you
know that feeling? The kitchen

reeks of sex. I wonder if you

are picky about your food. I picture you using
your long delicate fingers. For some

reason this guess doesn’t cut with a knife. You drink
with both eyes open. You chew with a stainless
look. I wish I could make you

a steak so good you’d fall
off the chair at our table and laugh and scream.

woo. wee. But no cumin. or
saffron. Nothing too thick to
stain, any hint of heat

that isn’t
perfect like the sun.

Dear Cyntoia Brown,

Today we skate. We lean into the ice, with our blades prostrate as if
they were not sharp enough to sever the throat. We toe to flight,
we bend ice across our fingers to stretch the divine deep edge. You
assist. I do a gender. I’ll take -- woman and drop into death if
I trust you. You take woman and lead on the plane. It’s better
this way. Reverse fits. I lift you in patterns. You Biellmann spin.

Consider the cold partner. Who rests in nothing but breath
cold, one jury from forgotten. One digit from gold. The vote
is terribly scary. What everyone thinks. We wore our best
jesters. A black tear for two. And another. And rustle away
from the unpredictable crowd. Who comes to these things,
Cyntoia. Who’s out there, with their monocles, hoping you
                                                                                          never slip.

For more about Cyntoia Brown and this poetic suite, please read francine j. harris' author's note.