Poetry by Karisma Price
Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Mona Lisa Saloy
It is my pleasure to feature a new NOLA voice, from a different generation, in the poetic work of Karisma Price. At the New Orleans Book Festival at Tulane University, we read on a panel with another poet I admire, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, with the three of us offering our take on today, on the places and people who touch us, on the duplicity of life and love, and on the heart-wrenching challenges of this time in which we live. Karisma’s unique voice asks questions one feels but may not dare express. She appreciates her roots, ponders tragedy in motion, reflects on the challenge and embrace of family, and questions what to make of it all. Karisma Price is a poet to enjoy and watch.
after Jericho Brown
I showed my cousins I loved them by learning
how to spell every one of their names.
My black nation learns how to spell the names
of our kin renamed “emergency,” “threat.”
New Orleans, please. There’s threat of emergency:
a violence against where black people sleep.
My most self-inflicting violence: lack of
sleep. I pray with the meat of my anger.
I should gut my anger, this mold, from my house.
I have a bad habit of always thinking.
I have a bad habit: I always think
loving someone means that I know them.
Isn’t it fun to love someone you don’t know?
I showed my cousins I loved them by learning.
I Wrote All My Good Poems in New York
I tell you as we walk the trail in Oxford surrounded by the trees I don’t have names for. They hang over us like unpredictability. Like life. I don’t have a name for this, but I’ve tried calling it several things: limbo, an unnestling into a familiar strangeness, unpaved streets. I’m afraid my hands worked better in the cold. I mean, I think this is how destruction starts: You return. You’re non-adaptable, harder to move. The ground sinks. The water rises. I think too much of the fields. Write enough elegies to be the rabbits trespassing them. I mean, we’ve all once seen what we think shouldn’t be there: A weaponed shadow that turns out to be the refrigerator, a shirt hanging from the door, the toilet in its same spot gurgling like a victim, so fear-swollen, it’s real. I love where I’m from. Religiously hunker in the belly of the tub during rain fueled summers like a stowaway. It took 5 hours to get here. We should have switched drivers when the accents changed. Talked about what soothes our mothers. Blood is such a flimsy marker of kinship. The highway was a spine leading the way to the borrowed brain of the house we visit like an earworm. The cicadas call us from the noise we have no name for. We know things are wrong. We’ve listened too much. The land, like us, will one day be gone. Right now, let’s pull the black card on nature. We deserve to be here. We cut the horsetail like troubled siblings. Construct our own names, unchristen the smooth barked crepe myrtles. Damnful clergymen. Look at us, once before we trusted poisonous things because of their beauty: Angel’s Trumpets, the stones of cherries, ourselves.
Karisma Price is the author of I’m Always So Serious (Sarabande Books, Feb 2023). Her work has appeared in Poetry, Four Way Review, Wildness, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and New York University, was a finalist for the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize, and was awarded the 2020 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from the Poetry Foundation. She is from New Orleans, and holds an MFA in poetry from New York University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Poetry at Tulane University.