She’s a Celestial Wall Etched on the Mandala.


That she circles jasmine on a mandala to honor saints comforts her.

Dust off the metal Black Ivy on the wall. Finger the jeweled peaks to touch what it means to make sacred geometry shine. That hand is the one I choose, a bare hand from jasmine. Nightfall in November, her hand warms up the high points, sparkles for branches and bridges on her altar. Bright by swirls of light over amazing groves, enough village green for which Sister could ask, as she must.

Never mind that her feet hurt from the streets of DC. Another protest march, Burn it down chants from facing the camouflaged riot gear. Take off her shoes again. Fed up, air out. Remove her sweater in the half-basement room. Steal away from the cop sweat and helmet where loss reminds her, we dig the dirt to our own doom. So many graves. That child we put into the ground.

Unlike this city, emptiness welcomes everyone. No wonder the plain-clothes police who eye marchers in torn jeans and pink pig masks often picture in her candlelit prayer.

The autumn-wine of wind lowers sunset into her mandala, how hungry from ham bones Sister clears the window to see her likeness. Sigh: stop leaning toward noise. Stillness: plow for silence like O’Keeffe into a bloom’s terra-cotta. Sense: a maroon panorama blushes into mesas born shadowing a desert. Not the closed gang street given to gunfire, the Glock, the shot whose bullet triggers wreck.

Each turn of the medicine wheel, silence endures her fingertips and what jasmine does to cleanse a smear. Fix it, heal everything outside the window, outside the temple, the holy well outside.

I think we’re stuck in a dog-eat-dog, the yoke of a leash stiff as a crutch. That violence bulges nonstop to an airborne rage. Song-birds become the fallen leaves, and Sister stands in her socks, labeled a nuisance, worthless, nobody, a foot caught in a trap.

Her mantra: beware the cop call for backup. Beware the chokehold — I can’t breathe or chase breath. Case out the corner of a Code Red street. Catch its lumped shock. See blood on a shirt. Can’t keep the bleeding out of her eyes. Watch his last breath hang against the wall of a broken neck. Who dies? Who lives against a wall within her house? In solitude, she’s a celestial wall etched on the mandala. In solitude, a fuse to fire.

But this can’t be real. I don’t see Sister lash out, strike back other than what happens in guerilla theater, or the ritual to make peace and breathe jasmine after another body falls and harm turns into ice. Cars let off gas. The world she left drops behind her like photographs of O’Keeffe. Back to the urban wall and jasmine. Grapple for the blue of earth, the brush between fingers, sweat running down her arm.

For the shadow of silence guides her hand on the mandala and she sings.


Phillip Shabazz is the author of three poetry collections, and a novel in verse. His poetry has been included in the anthologies Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook and Home Is Where: African-American Poetry from the Carolinas. Some previous publication credits in journals include Across the Margin, Fine Lines, Galway Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Hamline Lit, Impossible Task, ImpSpired, Mason Street Journal, New Critique, On The Seawall, and the Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology.


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