Press 53 . PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130-0314

LaWanda Walters
Press Fifty-Three

560 N. Trade St, Ste 103
Winston-Salem, NC 27101


Light Is the Odalisque
by LaWanda Walters

ISBN 978-1-941209-39-4
9 x 6 paperback, 122 pages

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Praise for Light Is the Odalisque

From the opening poem of LaWanda Walters' Light Is the Odalisque, one is caught in the hands of an expert story-teller, and held up by the singing of a poet. Some of the poems are formally beautiful, others gorgeously free, but all are clear-eyed, deep, sassy, sexy, compassionate and vibrantly alive. Reading this book is a pleasure I know I'll return to again and again. Its roots are Southern as wild honey and as surpassingly sweet. 

—Liz Rosenberg, poet, and author of The Moonlight Palace

For over three decades, LaWanda Walters’ poems have seen the light only in the pages of the country’s most prestigious literary journals; this is her first book. Whatever the reasons a brilliant writer’s work fails to find a publisher, it is an occasion for excitement (and much astonishment) when it does. The poems I read for years in magazines come full into their glory when set in their rightful context. This is mature, eye-opening work, meticulous and exhilarating, that only a writer at the height of her powers can give us. 

—James Cummins, author of Still Some Cake

This wide-ranging, beautiful, and painful book reveals LaWanda Walters as a masterful, brave, and dangerous poet. As much at home with a disciplined free verse as with traditional forms, and as comfortable with narrative as with lyric, Walters delivers (like the morning mail, like a baby) a world. The odalisque is light—meaning not heavy, meaning luminous. “How odd,” we discover, “that a direction—like South—takes on meaning like a person’s face.” The poems are (or appear to be) autobiographical in the best sense. “I searched myself,” Heraclitus declared, and Walters’s book, written in that spirit, stokes the Heraclitean fire with embers from a burning heart. 

—T.R. Hummer, author of Skandalon: Poems


Mama, you were my first love.
From you I learned what a body is for,
skin against skin, that mystery.
You were so different from me.

From you I learned what a body’s
for—to be rocked and sung to—
you were so different from me
and sang that song you made up.

To be rocked and sung to
and later to sing to someone else.
You sang that song you made up,
“Baby, baby my darling now don’t…”

I could sing to someone else
but I only remember parts—”Don’t cry,
Baby, baby, my darling, now don’t…”
and something like “stars in the sky.”

I only remember parts. “Don’t cry.”
The melody was brilliant and soothing,
something like stars in the sky.
I’ve tried to sing it to my children,

the brilliant, soothing melody.
It wasn’t just any lullaby
and I’ve tried to sing it to my children.
You were too carefree to write it down.

It wasn’t just any lullaby.
I can almost hear it when I’m crying,
what you were too free to write down.
That missing part, that harmony,

I can almost hear it when I’m crying.
Although it came to mean nothing,
that missing and that harmony.
Why must our feelings change?

Although it came to mean nothing,
my first lover was a Taurus like you
and there are feelings that must change
between a girl and a mother.

My first lover was a Taurus like you—
both stubborn, both earthy and beautiful.
Between a girl and her mother
things can be so very close.

You were both stubborn and beautiful.
One night we were all drunk with Gallo
(how things can be so very close)
and you kissed me with your tongue.

One night we were drunk on Gallo wine
and I knew he was your lover too.
You kissed me the way dogs piss on lawns,
and I got over it all, I thought.

I knew he was your lover too.
Outside I saw The Big Dipper.
I got over it all, I thought,
until I had children of my own.

I went outside to see the constellations.
Mama, you were my first love
and now I have children of my own.
Skin against skin, that mystery.

LaWanda Walters grew up in Mississippi and North Carolina. She earned her B.A. at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, an M.A. in Literature from California State University at Humboldt, and an M.F.A. in Poetry from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Cincinnati Review, Cutthroat, The Georgia Review, The Laurel Review, North American Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Southern Poetry Review, and Sou’wester. Her poem “Marilyn Monroe” appears in Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (Dartmouth College Press, 2014), and “Goodness in Mississippi” was chosen by Sherman Alexie for Best American Poetry 2015. She is the mother of two grown children, Tess Despres Weinberg and Sean Jason Weinberg, and lives with her husband, John Drury, in Cincinnati.