From Issue 19: "The Binding" by Jo'Van O'Neal (Poetry)

The Binding                                                                  

Jo'Van O'Neal

Reading Time: 3 minutes

"The Binding" originally appeared in Issue 19 of Tahoma Literary Review. In this poem, the agile movement between contemporary and archaic lexicon contends with the history of suffering. The lines, in their rich and textured pacing, pause at moments of tenderness and then move forward with the urgency of a question. There is a personal vulnerability in the final refrain--an “I” that speaks to the men who have come before. Why the historical repetition of violence and what does it mean for the black boys to come? This poem is one of TLR's two Pushcart Prize nominees in poetry for 2020.

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Jessica Cuello 
Poetry Editor


The Binding 

I lay my once coveted head for all my fathers and still, none
notice the sultry of my neck. The way I crook to convince

        my body of the familiar. Instead, I become a map to praise.

A rabid necked Nigga. I am all the things the blade required. Here
the milk of my name falls out my hollow face. In another world

        this is the taxonomy of suffering. Every son after me is nursing

of lamb and limb. Lineage to nothing. Patron saint for all the boys.
I am. Did they even ask? If they had, my bodies would all sing no

        in unison. First boy without a prayer. Here I am. Quiet. Choired chaos.

No one thinks of the rammed til they want to be warm or full. Men
wouldn’t dare whisper my name in place of their shared gods. Ain’t I gift

        a century’s promise.

                                                                                Why my neck?
                                                                                Why my neck?
                                                                                Why my neck?



Reprinted with permission of the author.


Jo'Van had this to say about the piece:

I’ve been interrogating my feelings about a lot of things, particularly the relationships I have with the men in my life. And I wanted to articulate to myself the history of those feelings. Not just my own personal history but some of the “history” I was raised into. I think of the patriarchy and I think of violence. Archaic violence, so the biblical telling of the attempted sacrifice of Issac by his father felt like the right place to ground both this poem and my work in progress. 

Jo’Van O’Neal is a Black poet, content creator, and teaching artist currently based in Newburgh, New York. He is a fellow of The Watering Hole and a Hurston/Wright Foundation workshop Alumnus. In 2018, he was an inaugural Open Mouth Readings Writing Retreat participant. His work is forthcoming or featured in Foundry Journal and Bayou Magazine.