spectacle in the museum of man until 1974

for saartjie baartman

i lock bats in mason jars.
call it a cruel thing, a bitch about
to bite thing, but bats-teeth leave
exit wounds too.

i learned from a bashed-in circus tent
to never trust with my body
the man holding the ring.
when i forget i am human
i go to the museum

and count the bricks in the walls.
each one a contract
signed by a white doctor
& an illiterate black woman.
in life,

her body becomes an exhibit
for circus patrons
steadfast in their god
who makes freaks & monsters
& no mistakes. in exaltation
they sell her to an animal trainer.
i heard he trains bats to bite in the day.
he locks a collar around her throat
& when she dies

dissection
is close
enough
to an autopsy
for her sort.
for 159
years her body remains
profitable
& the museum
believes itself benign
as her pieces
become its revenue. today
the spaces where she used to hang
remind me

my body remains profitable
but the walls are thinner now.
i stack the bats in my backpack.
my body retains a capital
i do not know how to access
but i can open the jars.
i can choose which walls
to point the bats to bite.

quickly now.
this alliance won’t hold for long.

Published online June 07 2020.

Leslie Joy Ahenda is a queer black diasporic poet living and working on unceded Lekwungen & W̱SÁNEĆ territory. Educated at the University of Victoria, she is an intern on the Malahat Review poetry board. Read her also in Homology Lit, Poetry is Dead, and Honey & Lime Lit, among others. Find her on Twitter at @lesliejoyahenda


Poetry Only cover image

This piece was published in ‘Poetry Only,’ the Spring 2020 issue of CV2.

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