Creative Writing

This Black Poetry of Mine: An Homage to Our Shared Experience

images-1Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of black people in this country and others. It is not the only time we can acknowledge and celebrate ourselves but it is a set aside time that I gladly use to remind myself and others of our excellence and inherent worthiness. This year, I’ve chosen to write a collection of poems that won’t reflect the experience of every black person because we are not a homogenous people but that does tell a story that many of us can relate to. Each day I’ll post a new poem.

“The Black American Story”

Up through time we’ve come

Cultivators of culture

Magistrates of morality

Navigating triumphs and losses

As humanly and freely as did others

Still, enslavement ripped through

A separation from home

Placed us in a structure of society

Built on stealth oppression

Assigning worth and access arbitrarily

Even now.

Predictions of our demise proved useless

We prevailed

Our contributions impress

The genius undeniable

And we choose to celebrate the voyage

Untitled

He saw through to her

Spotted her in a crowd of otherness

Discerned her as belonging to him

And pressed toward her

With an eye like King Ahasuerus

Laced with a lens of Godly favor

He picked her out from them

Light transcended the darkness of her skin

She was remarkable

He could not be mistaken

She was his

Now found, he exalted her

Replenished insecurities with assuredness

Vowed to answer tiny questions

She asked about devotion

He answered them

Harshly sometimes but with affection

This was his attempt

At finding and loving a black woman

“Ashy”

I have been told

My skin distracts men

And turns women green with jealousy

My deep caramel complexion

Is perfection, they say

Friends comment on my pictures

Saying “melanin on fleek!”

I smile and accept their compliments

But I know

When I exit the shower

Or merely wash my hands

Ash gathers in the creases of my joints

Knees and elbows are like powdered dust

The space between my fingers

Crackles and pops

Until

I find coconut, shea, or cocoa

And rub it in until my ashen skin

Returns to its previous glory

“Twist Out”

My two strand twists

Came out like the stratosphere

Exploded in puffs of clouds

Suspended from my head in the air

Hanging like fog

As if I had not followed all the steps

In the  YouTube tutorial

I am now no one’s standard of beauty

There are, however

Twenty-two inches of Brazilian wavy

Waiting patiently

To be sewn in tonight

“Jordans”

You may book flights across the globe

Create memories untold

Chose to own homes

Or property zoned

For big business

If this

Is a competition

Just know

I own J’s you’ve never even seen

 

“Hip Hop”

He flirts with piano keys

I hear it in his fingers

Crushing on the ivory

Drums interrupt

A light tapping to hold the beat

Then bam

The bass enters

Sending tremors through my chest

The lyricist echoes the feeling

And I am left vibrating

Listening to a narration of experiences

Sitting atop music

That moves me

 

“Mr. President”

In our wildest dreams we saw you

Dancing under our eyelids

Beautiful black brilliance

It was you

We held our breath

Too scared to move

Lest we wake from our sweet slumber

Be sent reeling back to reality

Where Martin and the rest of us

Doubted we’d ever have you

Dreaming was our best hope

Though I’m afraid we slept too long

Because your predecessor

Well . . .

We won’t sleep again

There’s only time to

Stay woke

 

 

“Prayer”

Before day

And four more times throughout

She escapes the world

Enters a place imperceptible to others

Whispers to God

Offers praise and seeks requests

Asked earnestly every time

He hears and answers

Just as often

“Jail”

Faint sirens rang out in the distance

Becoming a wailing outside my door

Mimicking the cries of my mother

As they took me away

Now in the cage

Where time is the same

But its use limited

I wonder if I ever had another option

No one told me I did

“Hair Salon”

I dare not scratch my scalp while I wait

Lye has burned better women than me

I pat the spot and read

Jet Magazine

See black beauty queens

And want my hair like theirs

I stare

At the women in the shop

Hear them talk

About how good God is

Until Mother Smith leaves

Then they talk about her

Trifiling husband

I pretend not to hear

And hold my ear

When the iron gets too close

I cringe but know

My hair will lay obediently

For the next weeks

 

 

“Family Name”

I was named for a woman I never met

A great great aunt

Whose mother heard the name

While she slept

And in her dream

No one told her when or how or what

Not an owner

Not even a husband

When she woke

She rubbed her belly

Wished the dream a reality

For her child

I am the third one

To be named Joy

And the first to be free

“At work”

Managers say she’s hard to supervise

Loud and quick lipped

Hips wide

Too much backside

Too much south side

She takes up too much space

They say

Rooms aren’t big enough to hold her

Mouth

Hair

Or competence

She notices their disdain

And stays late

Comes early

To be perfect for them

“Ma”

From magic she delivers life

Sprinkles of fairy dust fall from her

An abracadabra ensues

Voila

A child lives

She laughs as he comes from her

Her voice an incantation

Casting a spell

She wards off attacks against his blackness

Until her hex wears off

And he is just a boy alone

Needing his own source of wizardry

To survive

 

“Attraction”

His skin melts from his head

Drips down the rest of him

I can taste it

Sweet brown confetti swirls

And girl

His lips

Express the depths of his most complex ideas

His eyes hold my hand

While I fall in them blindly

At the bottom I find soul staring back

I want to stay there

Listen to the heart talk

And respond

With the best in me

“Loving You”

Even before I knew you

You were my family

I perceived your significance immediately

And our lives coalesced

Into cluttered emotions

Desire and fear, respect and rapture

It was madness

Baby

It was bliss

Because you were always familiar

I recognized scars before you revealed them

Soothed old welts from switches

Kissed traces of Africa on your face

Tasted bits of anger in your tongue

I already knew you’d need me to

Be your peace

Call out your potential

Demand that you regard my spirit as highly as  your own

I knew I’d love a black man

“HBCU”

Everyone comes on the first day of class

Professors call names

Pulses quicken

New clothes and freshly braided hair

Barely mask doubt

Creeping into places

Tenacity once was

Disjointing yesterday’s confidence

Trickling fear into bloodstreams

Still, everyone persists

Knowing auntie sent money for books

Daddy is so proud

Futures depend on now

Tomorrow needs today

In this space

The reading must be done

Calculations and experiments

Philosophies considered

Excellence continues

In another generation educated

 

“Dread Head”

So coarse they lock

Create a fortress

Keep pride hidden safely within

And tumble

Down sturdy necks

Svelte shoulders

Like wool

Like Christ

So unnormal they beckon fingers to touch

Call to eyes that stare

Some not recognizing

The deity there

“Hungry”

They’re cooking

Finally

The house heats up

My mamma does too

Her fried catfish

Comes out the grease too soon

Grandma does it different

Adds curry to everything

Even mamma’s fried fish

Grandma puts rice and peas

In the simmering collards too

Mamma whispers

Wish your grandma would go back home

Grandma giggles and turns her plantains

I pop one in my mouth

Behind mamma’s back

And stifle my own giggle

 

“BFF”

Promises on pinkies

More promises in blood

A little hesitation

. . .

I whisper my secret

Out loud for the first time

Wincing in pain from the barbed words

Cutting as deeply as they had inside

I am left exposed

Sitting naked in my truth

Barely breathing now

My eyes sting

Waiting for the response

I can’t feel the tears

Only her wiping them away

And the kisses she places on the face

I’ve just told her I hate

“Lined Up”

Strands of his tresses spiral

Out of control atop his head

Across his lip

Down his chin

He’s up next

So he sits in a chair and explains

He wants it high on top

Tapered on the sides

Low in the back

A perfect line across his forehead

Then shape the beard

Don’t clip the length

Oil it up

Make it shine

 

When he leaves

The world parts to let him by

 

 

“Daddy”

He stays long at work

Smells like the math department

Sounds like that staff meeting

Feels like a great big man

 

He reworks the statistics

Becomes an equation

Requiring algorithms lost on textbooks

Resembling the inexplicable way of nature

 

Add his kindness and strength

Carry his reticence

Multiply the spirituality

He equals love, infinitely

 

The tally becomes the measure

Against which I compare any man

Pouring into my life

Trying to replace him

“Edges”

Little by little

Slicked hair becomes undone

Combating pomade and gel

Springing into action

Fervent as the ancestors

“We shall not be moved!”

Banded in a crown around my temples

Curled tightly, my hair resists

As do I

“Mad”

I stare at nothing

The screen is blank

Desk empty

Report undone

My eyes sliced through morning greetings

Sat silent through morning meetings

Lips afraid to part

For fear of the fire inside

I am a furnace

Burning and burning and burning

Rage and aguish tumble around in my belly

Feeding the flames

Singeing my heart and destroying my lungs

I can’t breathe

That’s what he yelled

I know what he meant

And if he died

Surely I will too

 

I’m taking off tomorrow

“Church”

My clothes were laid out for me

White lace on my sleeves

Ruffles on socks

Purple bows for pressed hair

I sit in the sanctuary like a lady

Legs crossed and mouth shut

Until the organ revs up

The gospel goes forth

There’s a leak in this old building

And I got to move

 

“Body”

I walk on these legs

In the hips that steady them

Down a street where no music plays

But a melody drums up as I sway

The bounce from my breasts keeps the beat

The swoosh of my arms adds a note

And my thighs sing, oh they sing

I am jazz

“Hood”

Ms. Jones live across the street

Her house smell like a pot of greens

The roses in her yard the best on the block

Almost look like the ones at the park

I go when my grandma let me

Pass by the corner store on my way

Get soft candy and trade it for hard candy

Now my lips purple like the other girls

Everybody out today

We laugh and play and ask if we can sleep over

My grandma say yes this time

Only if Ms. Patterson say it’s ok

Ms. Patterson work at my school

She like me because I read out loud

I know she will say yes

We bout to have too much fun

 

“Melanin”

On the days that I am not my best

Lacking in patience

Unpolished

Devoid of charm or wit

Hollowed of the simple pleasantries

There is still an iridescence

Gleaming up from the shell of my body

It is my skin

A glowing display of heritage

And even then

I am marvelous

“History”

Popular discourse is the middle passage

Slavery

A diaspora

The most shameful

Humiliating and barbaric

Historic rendition of our beginning

When in truth

All life began in color

In kingdoms

Turned to empires

Truthfully

We started it all

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I'm Mariah. Jesus is my homie. I live in (and was raised in) the south. I am, as often as possible, actively grateful for my family because I understand their life giving power. Really dislike melodramatics. Really love reading and writing so much so that I aspire to be an author. What else?

2 comments on “This Black Poetry of Mine: An Homage to Our Shared Experience

  1. Barbara Phillips

    Mariah, thank you for sharing your life, your insights, your memories, your experiences, your truth. Courage!

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