Roger Reeves
Self-Portrait as Ernestine “Tiny” Davis



Call me hippo. Call the woman beneath me

a broken boat, a thin white skiff, a toothpick

unhinging a speck of pepper from between

my gaped teeth. Call the curtains closed.

Call that tour bus to cover my breasts.

Once, a man scraped me jagged as a pine cone.

I scraped him white as a star, then left him

and his head in a trough beside a pen of pigs.

Call the trough home. Call Daddy out

of this wet house. I can’t sing without hearing a man

slipping below water clean as butter, clean

as a roach sliding down the thin throat of a crow.

Call the road from Chicago to Memphis brief

encounters with an axe and a woman

who carries dust in her mouth. Call Jesus

down from that cross. Call my tongue a crown

of thorns, a patch of nettles sunk deep in an arm.

I’ve found every sparrow God has forgotten

to watch over. I’ve wreathed them in briars

and hung them from the back fence. They say

they’re tired of singing. They sang only to be noticed.

I am noticing. They are noticed. Funny, little beasts

often mistaken for something that should be pierced,

a spine broken on a thorn, then eaten—breast first.

Call me tiny, anything small: an acorn

lodged in the throat of a thrush. Choke. A claw

squeezed from the purple head of a flower. Prick.

A hunk of pork butt plucked from the gums

and placed back onto the tongue. Gag. Then swallow.

Feed me. Call my appetite a kind kingdom.

Call me Queen. King me.


[1] Ernestine “Tiny” Davis played trumpet and sang for the first integrated all-women’s jazz band in the 1940s called the International Sweethearts of Rythm. Her trumpet playing was so prized that Louis Armstrong offered to pay her ten times her salary with the Sweethearts to tour with him and his band. Tiny refused. When she retired from the Sweethearts, she opened a gay bar in Chicago with her lover, Ruby Lucas, called Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot. She died in 1994 at the age of 87.

Found In Volume 40, No. 01
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Roger Reeves
About the Author

Reeves’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as PoetryPloughsharesBoston Review, and Tin House,among others. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, a 2013 Pushcart Prize, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. Recently, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book, King Me, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in October 2013.