Jan Beatty – "Red Sugar"
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011

Jan Beatty – title poem from Red Sugar (University of Pittsburgh Press 2008)


When I came across Red Sugar, via recommendation on Amazon no less, I got angry that I hadn't heard of her sooner. I felt cheated that I had not known about her in grad school; I could have learned so much!  So, although she's pretty well established with three books published already, I think it's appropriate to include her work as the final post for the week because I love the raucous, decadent, visceral images and unflinching narrative that is so gloriously woman-centered. 




                                                You walk inside yourself on roads and ropes

                                                of blood vessels and tendons, you walk inside

                                                yourself and eat weather

                                                                                                            Gretel Ehrlich


When I was young, I was a comet

with an unending shimmering tail,

and I flew over the brokenness below

that was my life. I didn’t know until I was

twelve that we carry other bodies inside us.

Not babies, but bodies of blood

that speak to us in plutonic languages

of pith and serum. When I was

six, there was a man in the woods,

naked. I didn’t know him, but I knew

he was a wrong kind of man/so I ran.

With my inside body I see his skinny

white bones and curled mouth, he looks

like sickness and it’s the body inside me

that’s running, my red sugar body

that shows me the brutal road to love,

the one good man, the one song

I can keep as mine. I heard it once

when I was waitressing, something

made me turn my head, made me

swivel to look at a woman across

the room, wasn’t even my station,

but the red sugar said, go. When I

saw her up close, I knew she was

blood. I can’t explain this—I only met

my mother once. I said, Do you know

a woman named Dorothy? Her face

was pale, she said, No—in that hard way.

Maybe her red sugar told her to run—

but before she left, she grabbed my arm,

said, I did have a sister named Dorothy,

but she died. Two inches away from her

dyed blond hair, I said, okay, but both

our inside bodies knew she was lying.

Some people call it eating weather—

the way you swallow what you know,

but keep it—later it rises like a storm

from another world, reptilian and hungry. 

It’s the thickness that drives us and

stains us, the not asking/just coming/

the cunt alive and jewel-like/the uncut

garnet and the lava flow/it’s barbarism/

bloodletting/the most liquid part of us/

spilling/spreading/the granular red sea

of sap and gore/sinking/moving forward

at the same time/slippery/red

containing blue/it’s the sweet,

deep inside of the body.                       


For more, see this video of the badass poem "I Shoot You."



Audio: http://janbeatty.com/redsugar_selpoems.php

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  • Khadijah Queen

    it's my pleasure! i hope she will get much more attention. she is Great.

  • maureen walsh

    Wow! This woman is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this with the rest of us. Disturbing and brilliant!