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Sleep Paralysis, Kiri DeLandé

CW: mentions of slavery, slave trade

Starlight silences the scream that lives and dies in my throat. The moon muffles

my mouth, placing her pale hand against my lips, pressing them shut. I’m not

awake, but I am. Eyes dart wild around a room I know to be mine, but a shadow

slithers in the corners, one only I can see. It skitters across the ceiling and sinks

into me, heavy as a ten-ton weight. I can neither fly nor fight; my arms anchored

beside me, legs bricks of lead buried in my bed. When its jaws creak open, it buoys

me with black tar bubbling from its abyssal mouth. And I am still, a stone sitting by

a polluted lake, drinking in venomous verisimilitude. I pray to Spirit: Give me the

strength to shift, to shake, to slice through the paralyzed prison that is my body.

When I awoke, I was soaked in sweat and unsanctimonious demon-song, rabbit

heart thrumming with terror. Knots knuckled in my throat, darkness drumming

against my skull, the dull roar a ruinous wonderland ravaging my head. Science

says us Black folk are more likely to suffer from sleep paralysis, especially if we

sleep on our backs. I think of my ancestors shackled to slave ships, their limbs

bound in chains ‘stead of shadows. Strapped on their backs to wooden planks,

kept like cattle or cargo, unable to move. Their demons were not shadowbound,

but built of blood and bone. Do their horrors haunt my DNA, buried in my very

blood? Have their memories melted in me, ghosts glimmering in the tangled web

that is my muscles and tendons and flesh? When my demon slips into my night-

mares, should I try to scream, or smirk? You pitiful thing, you pathetic blight on

the night— you hold no power here. My ancestors have suffered more horrors

than your pathetic show of shadows can muster. Sink now, back to your sunken

place. Leave me to the sunrise.


Kiri DeLandé is a Black, queer poet from Rhode Island. When she’s not writing, she loves baking bread, brewing tea, and admiring the moon. Her most recent work has appeared in Sledgehammer Lit, Celestite Poetry, Warning Lines, and others. Find her on Twitter at @kismetmoon_.

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