Donika Kelly
Donika Questions the Oracle


Who hid my dad in the mountain,

impoverished, where he would remain,

invisible and rationed, not on milk and honey,

but on bologna and saltines, until he grew

strong enough to kill the father?


Which father?


Do I mean his daddy, exiled for the rest

of his diabetic days to a closet

in a house with no power, no water,

where my dad—his sisters and his brothers

caught for a time by the crack rock and the pipe,

lighting up in the dark—lived?


Surely not his daddy, oracle, surely not.


How long was he the youngest? How long

was he a child? What god swallowed him

whole? The god, perhaps, who split

his mother in two? Or took his brother

with a bullet from another father’s gun

in the sunlight in the afternoon?


Did he really hold his dying brother’s hand,

oracle, the brother who wanted

only an apology on my dad’s behalf?


Who held him when his mother died?

Who told him of a heaven where dead

mothers and brothers go?


O, the pigeons!


What of the pigeons, oracle? Did he tend them,

watch them rise from the roof of the house

with no power or water, but a daddy in a closet,

his sisters and brothers flaring in the rock light?


Did he delight in their return? The pigeons,

I mean? Did he ever delight, oracle, in anything

a child might? Did he look for his name in the sky?

Did he ride a bike, made from junk parts,

in the South Central LA sun as fast a boy might?


Surely he did that, oracle, surely that.


And when he rose like an improbable stone

from the father’s gut—whichever father

I mean here, whichever father makes sense—

the siblings, the pigeons, his daddy in exile,

his name in the sky—when he rose, with the stone

of himself in his hand, covered in bile and mucus,

free now of someone more powerful

than the child he surely once was,

did he know the terrible thing he would become?

Found In Volume 50, No. 04
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  • Donika Kelly
Donika Kelly
About the Author
Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations (Graywolf, 2021) and Bestiary, which is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry.