At the Table of Lady Bynum Walker


poem by Steven Leyva



Mahogany table, circa 1948, Orwellian
design—inset seismograph and cathode
ray tube slung below like some automaton
hog belly­­—translucent surface top.

Legs hewn as elongated tent spikes,
“The earth is a man’s head Judges 5:24
carved down the left edge. Sufficient
home altar. Chalk and blackboard

catalogue above hand blown glass jars:

Orris root suspended in sea water, cork
sealed tin of pigeon urine, beet blood,
Solomon seed, buckeye, and bone dust.
A row for Ogun: mandrake, squill, and rum

to promote iron in the blood and erection.
Many vials smeared with red mud. All the dark
wood doused in orthodox incense and ori oil,
its scent creolized with an odor of burnt yucca.

Table trim notched to count moon phases.
Hygiene of its own: human hair knotted
to dread—some ginger, brunette, and kink—
tied over bronzed handles. A single drawer.

Accent of hyacinth twisted with ribbon, a touch
of woman. Twin bells ringing thin at a slight brush.


Lady of the house roused to the room, near dead
blunt tucked in her lips’ left corner, the trail of two
foot dreadlocks, tied up, stirred the shadowing smoke.
Mistress sans master, matched to the mahogany table,
textures equal, pocked with moles like the black
heads of vials. Seems she birthed, body and soul,
this dark wood, but for the disparate skin. Hers bone
white albino African, nothing black but teeth. Words
sloughed in saliva. Today she casually palms a mango.
Tomorrow a fresh skull. Imagine no difference in her
gait or expression whichever gets tossed and caught
like a bored child. “Now what’cha be needing,” dropped
in the ear like spit. Adequate hush without remedy.
And without stutter I began, “Orris root suspended in sea…”