An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2009

excerpts from Discipline

Dawn Lundy Martin
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Dawn Lundy Martin is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a founding member of the Black Took Collective, a group of experimental black poets; cofounder of the Third Wave Foundation; and coeditor of The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (2004). Her books include The Morning Hour, a collection of poems that was selected in 2003 for the Poetry Society of America's National Chapbook Fellowship, and A Matter of Gathering/A Gathering of Matter (2007), which won the 2006 Cave Canem Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Hambone, FENCE, nocturnesEncyclopedia, and Callaloo. She is among the recipients of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences's Poetry Prize.

Excerpts from Discipline

© 2009 by Dawn Lundy Martin

On CNN a girl’s fingers slack, empty of weapons. Behind her, shrapnel fires. My mother says, O, holy, O, O, and then presses her lips together like a snake. Our purposeful living spaces made from taciturn rooms. Entire houses of trapped utterances–mouths saturated with them. Bodies can be easily carried across borders. Tangy fissures created from single breaths. Wooden slights bribe doctors to say This is a whole body. It’s complete and useable. We all believe that anyway. A useable body must demonstrate its use.


How do we encounter the many hours past twilight? We understand that the light is something other, that it catapults us toward a desire or two if we’re lucky. But, lately, daylight eats itself, and is percussive in its chewing, a carnival of curses and thumps. Nothing is wrong. In the hours after the whinny of the long train passing, we continue to think, how special we are, how born and cosmic, how just plain individual, but it is not enough. Nothing out there. Everything out there. What does it matter then, if the body climbs into a plastic car, drives into a deserted driveway and becomes another self? Elsewhere: One body found. One policeman shot. One 4-year-old girl shot. Teeter, tweeter, la, la, la, la, la. I am the I watching the I lift. Roads are short with darkness. I think, this is what they mean when they say, Savage.


Every night the body winds through the unlit corridors of the house. It tries to be quiet but there is nothing more quiet than the quiet itself. At the first glimpse of sun rising, panic. We are separated from the city. If this is a room in the country then there are other rooms like this one. A boy smells of hemp and bug spray. Cool cats, you know, float up, a mystery. Domesticity lingers.

     Women in dresses, men in shirts.
     Just an approach–
     –a waiting or
     since there is time, some tea
                    and wallpaper.

The body-carts are of a particular shape and size so everyone doesn’t have one. We are assured that there were errors. Sleep, little bodies, sleep.


People are fond of saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” which is complete bullshit. Required reading dots the bookshelf. There’s Fanon breathing holes into us. And my brother reading in the halty sidesteps of a grade schooler. I know what my brother smells like when he’s sick, angling for air, his body deep in the sweat of acquiescence. I want him to be someone else. My father liked to blame any crime in our neighborhood on “American blacks.” When he mumbled under his breath, I think he was saying “Goddamned niggers,” but I can’t be sure.