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White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

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In her fourth full-length book, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, Kiki Petrosino turns her gaze to Virginia, where she digs into her genealogical and intellectual roots, while contemplating the knotty legacies of slavery and discrimination in the Upper South. From a stunning double crown sonnet, to erasure poetry contained within DNA testing results, the poems in this collection are as wide-ranging in form as they are bountiful in wordplay and truth. In her poem 'The Shop at Monticello,' she writes: 'I’m a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies/ into money. Now, I have money to spend on little trinkets to remind me/ of this fact. I’m a money machine & my body constitutes the common wealth.' Speaking to history, loss, and injustice with wisdom, innovation, and a scientific determination to find the poetic truth, White Blood plants Petrosino’s name ever more firmly in the contemporary canon.

ISBN-13: 9781946448545

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Sarabande Books

Publication Date: 05-05-2020

Pages: 112

Product Dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Kiki Petrosino is the author of four books of poetry: White Blood (2020); Witch Wife (2017); Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013); and Fort Red Border (2009)—all from Sarabande Books. She holds graduate degrees from the Universityof Chicago and the Universityof Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Best American Poetry, The Nation, The New York Times, FENCE, Gulf Coast, Jubilat, Tin House, and online at Ploughshares. Previously Director of Creative Writing at the Universityof Louisville, she now teaches at the Universityof Virginia as a Professor of Poetry. Petrosino is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Arts Council. She lives in Charlottesville.

Read an Excerpt


You’re on a train & your ancestors are in the Quiet Car.

The Quiet Car is locked with a password you can’t decrypt.

You’re a professional password decrypter, but your ancestors are demolition experts.

You’re wearing black tactical gear & your ancestors are wearing black tactical gear.

You’re dashing through each compartment, slamming doors open, while your ancestors lay small explosives.

As heat expands within the carriage, you escape through a picture window.

You climb to the top of the train & your ancestors rappel down the sides.

You’re rappelling down one side of the train when you glimpse your ancestors above you.

They leap from carriage to carriage as if weightless, as if drifting, as if curling tongues of snow.

You cling to the side of the train as each of your ancestors lifts away from you.

They float into the cloud of themselves.

In the rushing light, you perceive them as hundreds slow snake doctors.


you begin.

"The Shop at Monticello"

I’m a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies into money. Now, I have money to spend on little trinkets to remind me

of this fact. I’m a money machine & my body constitutes the common wealth. I spend & spend in order to support this. I support this mountain

with my black money. Strange mountain in late bloom. Strange mansion built on mountains of wealth. I spend so much, I’m late for the tour

where I’m a blooming black dollar sign. I look good in the Dome Room prowling its high-gloss floor. It’s common to desire such flooring

for my own home, but owning a home is still strange. My blackness makes strange tools for a living, rakes the strangeness like dirt. I like to

rake my hands over merchandise: bayberry votives, English hyssop in crisp sachets. I like this Engraved Pewter Bookmark so much suddenly

I line up for it, clenching my upright fist. I pay cash to prove myself no shoplifter. Still, I abscond with my black feelings: crisp toast points

dunked in fig jam. On one hand, I must think very highly of myself to come here. Then again, that sounds like something I would say.

"Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County"

We weren’t truly free until we read the Amendment ourselves all the way to Lincoln’s signature, dark vines

gathering over the page. A. Lincoln said we should go forth, leaving bondage forever but we weren’t truly free until

we signed our own names & read them back to ourselves. Our names, not our marks dark vines gathered at X. Lincoln’s signature

looked so calm, a brown river of stones worn smooth with patience. We had no time to catch up. We weren’t truly free until

we’d scaled the high turret of B or unlatched the strap where H buckles itself. Still, it took years to reach Lincoln’s signature, dark vines

gathering. Our jagged serifs serrated the pages we signed. We wrote out our wills. You write poems about Lincoln, dark little vines of until.
But we weren’t truly free. Read the amendment.

Table of Contents

Prelude 1

What Your Results Mean: Western Africa 28% 5

Happinefs 17

Albemarle 35

Instructions for Time Travel 57

Monticello House Tour 38

If You Tell Them Sally Hemings Was Three-Fourths White 39

La Cuisinière Bourgeoise 40

Essay in Architecture 41

Terrorem 42

The Virginia House-Wife 44

The Shop at Monticello 45

Souvenir 46

Farm Book 47

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy 49

What Your Results Mean: Northwestern Europe 12% 51

Louisa 63

In Louisa 65

A Guide to the Louisa County Free Negro & Slave Records, 1770-1865 67

Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County 68

Louisa County Patrol Claims, 1770-1863 69

The Origins of Butler Smith 70

Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County 72

The Origins of Harriett Smith 73

Mrs. A. T. Goodwin's Letter to the Provost Marshal, 1866 75

The Estate of Butler Smith 77

Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County 78

How It Feels to Love Butler Smith 79

Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County 81

Heriac Tourism in Central Virginia 82

Approaching the Smith Family Graveyard 83

What Your Results Mean: North and East Africa 5% 85

Interlude 97

Psalm 99

Acknowledgments 101

Notes 105