Poems by Clerise Phillip Samuel

Let’s Make Them in Our Image

Let’s make brown children
to put to bed the faces of our ancestors
and let their childish tongues gleefully lick on our faces.
An overflow of the joys of being brown.
Let’s be foolish with them.

Let’s decide on the kids’ coils
over corkscrews and noise.
We live like crowds of creation in celebration.
God only taught us to chant and to move.
I’d be a fool for you.

Let’s be the norm
and speak as brown as the ghettos reclaiming their toil,
inviting their island brothers to use some of their terms.
We’ll teach the kids Nyampe, mehson, and “child, you aint heard?
After all, the different won’t know the difference.
Some brown can’t be sifted from music.

Let’s be as brown
as the ear wax that holds on to secrets.
Let’s hype them up on the glory in features
of thickset lips and edges, uniqueness.
So, our children will pep talk themselves
wherever brown ambition leads them.

Let’s be relentless.
What are warships and reparations
when brown is the ground of triumph?
We’re as dark as the leather boots they never gave us,
but we’re pulling ourselves up.
Let’s overdress
with the world as our mirror
until we see ourselves.


Mother the Gate

Mother grips your wrists and leads you through crowds of strangers.
With her far-reaching arm of inclination, she blocks back your chest at times of collision.
She knows there is danger, knows that circumstance wants her children,
so she’s become a gate.

She sits at the end of her children.
Indents and expressions post lines to ward off advances,
she is wrought iron, heavier and denser than other metals.
A sense of black intense elegance to the property you add to it.

She heard your cells swim laps
and tongue slip back to prepare your mouth to speak.
She heard your eyebrows rise up like elevators ease up knees.
She heard the endless “whys,” she just doesn’t answer you
as you please. She’s teaching you that sometimes
you’re annoying to all-knowing, and order doesn’t answer to chaos.

But you caught peeks of the other side,
squinting at what was never hidden and plotting your path as a dreamer.
You leaned on her frame and spoke to the other side, but she’s a lip reader.
She knows the questions want her pickney.

Then the night came when you must decide if it’s safer to stay,
but you could not dress up fibs or ad-libs to the keeper of your youth.
She knows the endless “whys,” she just doesn’t answer you.
You need your own truth. She knows you lied.
You aren’t ready, never will be, but Mother is the first person you lie to.
The gate opens because she unlatched herself to help you.



“So, what’s next?
Would you like to buy a car
or a house or another diploma?”
Well, I’m on the market for a corner
to curl up into a sphere
and wonder at the girl who gave it all.
I don’t know about you,
but I’m going to cry
not from the anticipated reasons,
or the priciest paper and outfit on my abdomen.
But for the confidants who are now
on their second children
and I don’t know the quirks of their firsts.
For my momma who’s hearing voices
probably in her natural tongue
of all the people who abused her
and I haven’t been to Gainesville to make
sure she’s not walking the night
‘til the talkers get quiet
or her willpower goes ghost.
For my sisters who don’t know
they’re the greatest brown heads to host crowns
in my eyes, the lovely bias
of an eldest who shares their exact same history,
a random gift from birth.
I can’t wait to cry in the corner
at how much everything cost.
The concrete that was poured perfect for me in a matter of weeks.
Building is just breaking in reverse.


I Never Leave My Sister, and I Only Drive Manuals

Crawling to the front seat, I unfolded my limbs lingering longer than the ages before and I was proud. Proud to drive the family car before the aluminum peeled under the St. Croix aura, I had been watching transportation move for years. Well two years, because living doesn’t count before 5, I parroted my mother’s parodies of living up until then. Mother exited for the store but not after commanding us to stay buckled, to sit back and stay in our seat. I unfolded my praying mantis hands and locked my elbows in place of the steering. How did mother’s two feet touch three spots? I paused and rewound every drive I’d seen, as I played with the emergency brake. We rolled down that hill like a car window with the hand crank. The car in neutral and the speed constant–we created air, we created movement. Three lanes of traffic, timely we grazed it. Screaming over sister’s, I told her she could do it. You can jump from car to uncertain– I won’t steer you wrong— It’ll be fun. Hold your ankles it’s a tight roll. Give me your palm, undo the fists; you can fight me later. Old enough to know my sister who was six had to come with, as this counted. That’s when I leaped, tumbling long enough to see the blue and white firmament fall from the sky and tag the grass over many times with thoughts of never getting to be black and/or excellent knocking about in my head, or worst my sister dead. In mother’s parody, someone yelled, “Will the owner of the white Honda come to the front?! Your car is rolling down the hill!!” Frantically mother claimed the lives that were hers at the bottom of the hill and the rear of the roads. Spankings are personal injuries when the seven-year-old drives the stick shift and leaves the six-year-old in the car seat.


Clerise Phillip Samuel has a degree in Creative Writing and Communication. She says she wants to use her writing to explore uniquely Caribbean expressions of “blackness” and push back at definitions of identity as monolithic.