Winner of the Graybeal-Gowen Prize

The Contours of Marriage

Birmingham, Alabama 1952

we’re just bone beneath
the foot of the statute
never the right kind

of light, of love—lashed
with bridal wreath, laughed
& gasped at my groom

can’t be man, can’t know wife
don’t got write to paper,
to a drama of snow, a train

of sugar—they hate us so
they turn the rice to rocks
white & clogged, my eyes

capture the mannequin
bound by glass, by crows,
to cell itself from my touch

those shops, choked with cotton
laced with unworn gowns
& longing, wouldn’t let us in

errant intimacies—we hallow this
union: simple sticks jumping broom

this dress as blue as this life
as full as my mouth of yours

Arianne Elena Payne is a Black writer, multidisciplinary creative, and aspiring historian from Chicago, Illinois. She has received the 2022 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize, the 2022 Virginia Downs Poetry Award, and the 2019 Frederick Hartmann Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured in Voicemail Poems, TORCH, Shenandoah and is forthcoming in the Indiana Review and Hooligan Magazine. Situated in the complexities and lyricism of Blackness, girlhood, and geographies of resistance—her work strives to take Black people and their histories seriously.