In our mother's womb we are constrained,
drowned in fluid that is and is not our own, a life-
line, left to make or take us. I was like you once,
the world shaped around me like a caul,
my movements restricted to a space defined
by someone else. I was like you, eating
what was fed to me, at peace in amniotic fluid,
sleeping where I should drown—a learned behavior.

I was like you once, formed in his image, and hers,
and hers, and his. Then I heard the sound
of other children, already born,
and grew envious of their laughter, cries, their world
much larger than mine. I grew indignant,
became unrestrained.

(If you are not careful, the world will celebrate around you,
vain-gloriously hold up the sonogram of you, unsure
of what you will become in there; the pain of being
pregnant, romanticized, captivity in the womb, revered:
Oh, to be an unborn child, to want for nothing.)

We are born again if we want to be, a rite of passage
born of naiveté or survival, or knowledge of a trust fund.
We will die there if we stay.

I was like you once, until I decided to be born.
I violently kicked and punched. Hollers gurgled in the dark
until the world trembled, tore.
Set me loose.



We walked the plantation together,
lamented the reality that slaves once walked
and worked in the oppressive heat.
I held your hand.

That was when I learned of cypress trees,
indigenous to your land, water, still
at its knees. That's one way to survive
the heat. You didn't say you loved me then,
but I knew you would.

All those years
I wandered, wondered
if I'd find feeling again. All those years
I made up constellations in my mind,
sirens and strays in the background.

All those years I wandered—Would I
find feeling again?
The rejection from a girl I loved one summer,
pungent like the old bunks at camp.

All those years
I wandered,
the little black boy, grown
up, numbed—if I'd ever find feeling again.

I was a man when you appeared.
When you left,
my body


The house was much smaller
than I remember. Sun-washed
shingles, rusted wrought iron,
sunflowers once towered over me.

I hadn't been home in years.
I can still hear the rhythm of soles
moving in packs across the pavement,
high heels tapping on the sidewalk—
I've lost feeling there.

I didn't forget: on the outside
I'm still a little black boy
squared up on a black top like chain-
link fences. At my core I'm a supernova,
bright star, burned, broken into fragments
for the world to collect,

but I've lost feeling. When did I leave
the place that held me in its bosom, swaddled
me, buried me in its arms?


I could never tell if they were stars
or planes in the sky, the twinkle of light
flashed like memories of fallen
kin. They must be stars.

From the boardwalk, the project windows
looked like stars
the way they flickered off
and on. I couldn't count them all.
So much to witness
so early.


I was too young to love anyone,
but my feet swung over
the sand as I dreamt of a house.
And a wife.
I'd see our bodies buoy on the waves,
glow at dusk under the stars. We'd forget
the side streets that tricked us
into thinking we were ghosts.

Derwin Sisnett is the managing partner of Rethink Community, a social impact investment fund that provides capital for real estate assets collectively centered on education, housing, healthcare, and the workforce. Derwin is also the founder and managing partner of Maslow Development Inc., a not-for-profit real estate development company that designs and develops communities around high performing schools.

Derwin earned a BA in Psychology from Emory University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University.