Thylias Moss is apoet, writer, experimental filmmaker, sound artist and playwright, of African American, Native American, and European heritage. She has published a number of poetry collections.
Moss was born Thylias Rebecca Brasier, in a working-class family in Ohio. Her Native American father was a tire recapper, and her mother a maid. Moss has said that her father chose the name Thylias because he decided she needed a name that hadn’t existed before. According to Moss, her first few years of life were happy, with Moss and her family living in the upstairs rooms of an older Jewish couple named Feldman (who Moss believes were Holocaust survivors).
When Moss was five, the Feldmans sold their house and moved away. Her parents continued to live in the house with the new homeowners and their 13-year-old daughter, Lytta, who began to baby-sit Thylias after school. Lytta tormented Moss on a daily basis. In addition to this, as a child Moss experienced several horrific events, such as seeing a friend jump from a window to escape a would-be rapist and witnessing a boy on a bicycle get killed by a truck.
Moss attended Syracuse University. After several years of working, she enrolled in Oberlin College in 1979 and graduated in 1981. Moss later received a Master of Arts in English, with an emphasis on writing, from the University of New Hampshire. Moss is now Professor of English and Professor of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.
A Hot Time in a Small Town
By Thylias Moss
In this restaurant a plate of bluefish pâté
and matzos begin memorable meals.
The cracker is ridged, seems planked, an old wall
streaked sepia, very nearly black
in Tigrett, Tennessee
where it burned
into a matzo’s twin. While waiting
for a Martha’s Vineyard salad, I rebuild the church
with crackers, pâté as paste
as a flaming dessert arrives at another table where diners
are ready for a second magnum of champagne; every day
is an anniversary; every minute, a commemoration
so there is no reason to ever be sober
to excuse incendiaries who gave up the bottle,
threw alcohol at the church, spectacular reform
in flames themselves ordinary—there’d been fire in that church
many times, every Sunday and even at the Thursday
choir rehearsals. For years there’d been a fired-up congregation
so seething, neighborhoods they marched through ignited
no matter their intention; just as natural as summer.
There were hot links as active as telephone lines
whose poles mark the countryside as if the nation is helpless
without a crucifix every few yards; pity they are combustible
and that fire itself is holy, that its smoke merges with atmosphere,
that we breathe its residue, that when it is thick and black enough
to believe in, it betrays and chokes us; pity
that it is the vehicle that proves the coming of the Lord,
the establishment of his kingdom, his superiority because
fire that maintains him disfigures us; when we try to embrace
him; we find ourselves out on a limb burning. The meal
tastes divine, simply divine
and I eat it in the presence of a companion dark as scab,
as if skin burned off was replaced as he healed
with this total-body scab
under which he is pink as a pig, unclean at least
In my left hand, a dash of Lot’s wife; in my right, a mill
to freshly grind the devil, since fire is power
both the supreme good and supreme evil are entitled
to it; most of the time, what did it matter
who was in charge of Job? Both burnt him.