When I clench my Black fingers into a fist,
I’m holding onto pride.
I’m grasping at liberty,
A slippery thing
That can slide between my fingers when they’re outstretched--
Was America ever the home of the free?
We’ve gone from blood on the leaves
To blood in the streets
More Black bodies denied of their being.
Threatened when we take a knee,
Tear gassed when we protest in peace.
The militarization of police
Have the streets looking like a war zone.
Trigger-happy officers so quick to reach for their gun
Tell me that Blackness is Public Enemy No. 1.
These murders have stopped coming as a surprise
So don’t be shocked when
“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”
The stress of it all is quite frightening
The past few years seems like we’re all just holding our breaths until the next one happens again
And it's scary because you realize that it WILL happen again
For as long as the system favors the oppressor over the oppressed
Fails to recognize its frailties and its problems
The socio-historical backbone in which the system was founded
more bodies will continue to fall against the concrete.
I have come to realize that the American dream is not hyphenated for a reason.
When the principles of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness were said into existence
I was the pedestal on which these men stepped in order to make that declaration.
To be born black is to be born into a defensive mindset
To learn from a very young age that to be black is to be in a constant state of self-defense
to constantly have your guard up waiting for the next blow.
In fact, to be born otherwise, is to be in a place of privilege
I honestly do imagine what it must be like to wake up every morning and know that your life,
your humanity, your mind is not being threatened
To breath the unadulterated breath of life
The state of blackness is this: the black man or woman has been waiting, holding his or her breath at every possible moment throughout history.
We held our breath when we wanted to see if American independence meant our independence too.
We held our breaths to see if Women’s suffrage meant our right to vote too.
We held our breaths to see if our education system would really be equal now that they are no longer separate.
After a while one begins to wonder whether we’ve been holding our breaths or
if we’ve had our throats clenched by the same people who claim that they are not there.
We’ve been holding our breaths for so long
we’ve forgotten how to exhale.
Today I am infected with invisibility.
I try to be seen, but I am ignored.
My soul shudders as he walks through me.
My yearning reveals my fragility,
While his self-assurance is adored.
Today I am infected with invisibility.
A glance my way--maybe there’s a possibility,
But it was not me his gleaming eyes explored.
My soul shudders as he walks through me.
What’s killing me is the inconsistency;
Not knowing whether or not I will be floored.
Today I am infected with invisibility.
I dream of guaranteed regularity,
When vulnerability will be something I can afford.
But today I am infected with invisibility.
My soul shudders as he walks through me.
I swear in another life she was a doe. It may have been due to her large round brown eyes, slightly sunken into her face, and framed with her showing veins, the type that only come after the age of seventy-five, that still shone. Or maybe it was the way her face gleamed, illuminated by the TV, in the dark room with all of her sadness crystal clear to me.
“You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. If I ask too deep a question, tell me to shut up.”
“Oh I will. I’ll knock you back down if you do.”
Facing me with her bed as a divider, she sized me up. I was some random girl asking not only to interview her but to record her. I willed myself to not crack under my own discomfort as we regarded each other in silence.
“Can you put this on the dresser?” she suddenly asked, holding out a small bottle of hand sanitizer. “And could you put this there too?” she held out a bottle of lotion, “and pass me that bottle…no, not that one, the other one…now put it in the drawer.”
Again we found ourselves quiet. The daily noise of the nursing home infiltrating the room combining with the sputtering of the air conditioner and the voice of Whoopi Goldberg on The View was all that could be heard.
“Ain’t you going to ask me some questions? I’m ready.” And she was sitting there in her wheelchair erect, purse on her lap, arms folded in front of it, primed for our talk. I quickly got out my notebook and turned on the recorder.
We talked about the basics that first day. Where she was from? South Carolina. Was she an only child? Only girl of seven. Why did she move to Brooklyn? A better life for her and her daughter. Did she have anyone up here when she moved? No. How did she survive? Through sacrifice and patience and work in hospitals. Did she want to be in this home? No. Did she wish she was back in South Carolina? Yes.
She didn’t give much more than that on the first day.
I simply sat there absorbing the presence of the beautiful woman in front of me, as she began to get lost in her thoughts. Her southern accent, her warmth, and her aura of sadness were captivating to me. Her wrinkly brown skin was beginning to take on different tones, each pigment of color varying from the other with beauty marks here and there. Her salt and pepper, heavy on the salt, hair came to a rest at her chin in a bob, tucked under kissing her cheeks. And her voice, it was lilting, sweet, high, and airy, musical even if you listened hard enough. You could hear the shrills and the slight wavering in her tone, as if at any moment it would give way to nothingness, but it like her it always had energy. I still can’t tell if her voice had always been that way, even as a young girl, or if it had simply become fragile just as she did with time.
She always wore some combination of a pastel color. The different shades were always very light, feminine, and springy. The colors screamed infant — something I pointed out to her that day — but with her brown skin and tiny stature, it fit so well.
“It’s funny how that works,” she said to me at the end of our interview.
“That at the end of your life you dress how you did at the beginning.”
I came back to interview her four days later. The minute I stepped off the elevator I saw her parked in the hallway holding onto the rail leaning as far off her seats as she could. There was a smile in her eyes as she watched the nurses walking up and down past her.
“Imma’ buss you up!” she snickered, her airy voice contradicting the mischief in her eyes as she tried to provoke the staff. I watched amused, as she laughingly continued her threats to the nurses, who gleefully played along.
“Miss Susy you causin’ trouble right now?” I teasingly asked, my voice taking on a slight southern accent; she was rubbing off on me.
She looked at me for a while, as if deciding whether or not I could join in on the fun. After a moment she nodded her head, her tucked under curls moving with her, as she snickered some more.
“No-ah, no I ain’t causing trouble these nurses are! They know I’m gunna’ buss them in the head!” she said raising a shaky fist.
She paused to watch more people go by. Her face was unconsciously scrunched up into a scrutinizing glare regardless of whether she liked the person or not.
“So you just gonna’ stay out here in the hallway people-watching, Ms. Susy?”
“Yeah, yeah I am. Why? You gunna’ talk to me today?”
“I just might …will you still be here?”
She smashed her lips together as if she was about to speak before she changed her mind and simply nodded her head. I waited for one more second before turning to walk down the hallway. Whenever I looked back, she was still sitting in her wheelchair right outside the elevators looking up and down the hallway. From afar her face was innocent, childlike, with her eyes wide open darting around trying to figure out what kind of world she was living in — I wondered if she realized she wasn’t in South Carolina anymore.
As I stepped off the elevator returning from my lunch break, I saw her perched in the same spot eyes unfocused on the resident in front her. The resident had just thrust a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into her hands, and she hadn’t noticed. As the resident began to walk off, I made my way forward until I was right in front of her; she finally looked down.
“Oh it’s you again,” she greeted once she tore her gaze away from the sandwich in her hands.
Watching as she slowly turned her wheelchair with sandwich on her lap, I couldn’t help myself: “Ms. Susy you gonna’ eat that sandwich?”
I knew even though she couldn’t see my face, she could hear my smile since she sucked her teeth and proceeded to tell me to “shut up” only to dissolve into giggles, hysterical as she waved around the sandwich. I pushed her wheelchair into the room, and tried not to let my own chuckles cause me to bump her into a wall, as I navigated the turn into the room.
“What am I going to do with this damn sandwich, huh? Ain’t no food up here good anyway!” she exclaimed flailing her arms as I positioned her next to her rolling table.
“Damn air conditioner, freezing me up. Can’t even work that damn machine. You know how to work it? Got all dem’ buttons can’t tell what none of them do. I just want to know why they couldnt’ve put it on her side of the room instead of freezing me up. Can’t even work that thing anyway. Now what was you gunna’ ask me?” she asked finally resting her arms in her lap.
“What was your favorite part about your house in South Carolina?”
She paused for a moment, her eyes beginning to get lost in a memory, wet from the emotions. I watched her wishing I could capture this moment forever — she was the picture of joy. She was in South Carolina.
I waited as she sniffled a little bit, and stared at her fingers. When she finally looked to answer, the doe was back again.
“We,” she cleared her throat, “we used to have grapes and berries wrapped all around the house that my daddy would grow. The sweetest I had ever tasted. And when I was little, I would just eat ‘em, eat ‘em all cause they tasted so good and they were so sweet,” she puckered her lips up, biting into the memory and savoring the sweet juices from the berries. “I love grapes and fruits. My daughter and my grandchildrens they always bringin’ me fruits and stuff whenever they visit. Just the other day she brought me a whole bunch strawberries and grapes. What was I gunna’ do with all dem’ strawberries?” she chuckled to herself and rolled to her wardrobe pulling out a bag of grapes. “I saved the grapes, but I gave most of the strawberries away. I couldn’t eat them all.”
She began to eat some of the grapes, languidly sucking all the juices out after every bite, and placed the rest next to the sandwich on her table. There was no twist of her lips; they weren’t as good as the ones in South Carolina. Her gaze stayed on the grapes, but she was far gone.
“You give away your food? Is that how you make all your friends, as some type of food dealer?” I probed trying to break her out from her fog. All I got was a nod of her head, the only way I knew she heard something I said. But all my efforts were for naught. Ms. Susy was not with me, nor was she trying to find her way back to Brooklyn. I used to wonder if she ever truly left South Carolina. I used to wonder if she wanted to. Now I wonder what she’d be like if she did.
“Hey Sister,” said a voice behind me, husky with age.
I looked back to see an older man, skin the color of chocolate and a kind face adorned with a silver beard. He wore brown dress slacks and a matching sweater, and a black head rested upon the silver on his head. I had seen him previously, talking to a student. The student had said “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything on me.” Soon after, he had reached out to another student, and asked him something, only to be brushed off. I was wary of him, not sure what he would say. Instead of asking me for something, he asked what my major was.
“Spanish,” I said curtly. I was walking ahead of him, barely sparing him a glance as I spoke.
“Where are you from?” he asked, seemingly genuinely interested.
“Around here,” I replied. I don’t know why I lied.
I guess he caught on to my attitude, and said with something that sounded like regret, “Well, go get ‘em.” He paused. “And while you’re at it, get the professor too.”
“I will,” I said smiling, and continued my journey to Mandel. I am ashamed of myself. How could I act so cold? Now that I look back on the interaction, he didn’t look threatening, he merely looked sad. How could I act so unchristian? We are supposed to be kind to all strangers. God, if this was a test, I don’t think I passed. I should have at least said “God bless you.”
I know what its like to be that sad, when a kind word from anyone could lift your spirits. He asked the white students around me for something material, but from me, tall and brown and natural-haired, maybe through some sense of shared history, he just asked for conversation and I’m so disappointed in myself that I didn’t give it. Why didn’t I give it? For some reason, thinking about it makes me feel like crying, and I don’t know why. Even through his own sadness, he gave me encouragement and he made me smile.
His words made me remember what my friends had joked about when I first got to UChicago. As a black girl at a primarily white institution, I’m not working just for myself; I carry my people on my shoulders. Many times, people here will see you, and make assumptions on the race based on your actions and behavior; you have to be a good representation of your culture. I had forgotten that.
Thank you, kind sir, for helping me to refocus myself. To remind myself the real reason why I’m here, and to show me what I’ve become. Thank you, for giving me those words and that smile, for making my day when I was so rude, and the reminder that I need to be kind. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again, but if we do, and I hope we do, just know that I’d greet you, with that chocolate skin and silver hair, the sad eyes and the kind smile, with a wide grin, an outstretched hand, a listening ear, and some encouraging words of my own.
And I promise you: I’ll go get ’em, and while I’m at it, I’ll get the professors too.
I can’t wrap my head around this feeling
so maybe I’m just trippin and maybe it doesn’t matter
but today I don’t feel free.
I’m making your coffee and I’m hyper aware that there is history in this transaction.
I know you won’t be surprised to see me on this end.
Another brown skinned girl serving you. Taking your orders.
My skin crawls when I linger too long on that thought.
I know I wasn’t made for this. I’m not here for this.
I did this to be cool. you know it’s all the rage to be a barista.
And if I didn’t think you were a racista hijo de puta.
Then that rage wouldn’t sit heavy within me.
Then again, I need the money. So enjoy your latte and have a great day. I smile.
You walk away.
Ask where the napkins are and shuffle on.
My mother taught me that everyone deserves to be acknowledged.
Those moments shared between people, that is where humanity begins.
A smile across my lips directed towards you is an act of love.
I thought, in this way I could reach you! but...
You gazed stone faced right through me. The silence I’ve tried to fight is strengthened.
It wins again.
Yet silence is a double edged sword. It is what saved my father’s life when he was dealing with that cop who slammed his body on top of the hood of the car, my mother not far. She watched.
Silent, as well.
But that silence will haunt you.
Cause you couldn’t do nothing and you couldn’t fight back. And people will tell you, you did the right thing because the only thing you could do is be compliant and submissive.
And that rage that ate at you, tearing you apart and left to rot within… that is the human condition… for some of us.
The walls convulse,
under her thighs, his mouth, their friction.
Her hisses hammer the door,
stretches into a crouch.
Her legs quiver with the rush.
She is all copper and scales,
hair black and thirsty.
It shimmers like the fury of his cheating hands,
it chokes him,
drops him to his knees.
Her eyes snake-bright and wild,
springs clean as arrows.
Twirl around his throat.
She plucks heart and liver first,
peels them to bits.
She rules by the thrust of her hips
leaves him empty as lust.
Her rampant thighs jolt,
force him to beg for more
of this succulent venom.
He slings his insides over his shoulder
lets them drip over himself,
he doesn't flinch at the sticky drizzle.
Her stilettos scrape his bones.
She snags the shavings,
they are her trophies
the thrill of the hunt,
proof of her savage prowess.
breaks rooms, love, him,
drapes them down her back
like bed sheets.
She is that myth ,
husbands try their hardest to hide.
They wash the sheets, flip the bed,
wipe the sweat off the kitchen counter,
take two showers,
and too many deep breaths.
The door snaps shut behind her.
Dad tells me,
he didn’t sleep
with that copperhead.
Ripe, the rind is the only thing
tough enough to slice through.
The grind of serrated edges bites
into the red, makes
the noise like my mother
and her hot comb.
The black pokes through.
I began to cut through the
white-skin before the rind,
falling on the counter
with a hollow pound.
Juice and seeds are trapped
in cubes, pink-belly
eaten with a plop and scratch,
on the top of my mouth,
seeds stuck in my teeth.
I pry it out with my nail,
dry in its
I set aside a bowl for my mother,
to sweet the nicotine and perm
We sit together away from the heat,
for once the air seeps
instead of seeds.
My hands swell with
palm oil on
My hair swoons
down my back,
all think-braided and glisten,
sweet like kola beans.
I want a man’s hand to feel
silk for the first time,
sulking in this womanhood,
woven by these fingers made for
his first child
Yams are waiting for warmth,
the fire hasn’t even been stoked,
the sun-dried dirt beneath my feet seeps
through my toes, searing their webs and
stings me—like he will.
Okonkwo strolls in the hut, muscled like
bison, all veins and punch-thrust,
strength of God.
His voice rolls through the valleys of my braids,
“Where is dinner?”
His eyes drive through my chest,
holding my lungs captive.
I can feel his fingers wrap around my throat,
snap my neck like an animal’s
I am his kill,
his raw meat dangling from hooks,
I am not fit for the love a woman deserves,
he tells me my bones are dry–
sucked of soul.
I am nothing but a man’s hip-struggle.
I am afraid of that nail-wrapping
fist-blaring feeling he calls
His fists swell with my marrow,
he looms over his carcass--
body bloody but breathing.
He will tell his men nothing of this.
Only God will speak on his actions,
steal the blood that runs from his fists and
his knees and make him
repent like the sinner he
The next time he will cradle my body and
pass his seed through me and calls for another
I will gash his barrel chest,
make him me—make him
make him carry God in his stomach,
slave over yams and palm wine,
drink himself drunk,
hungry over every cell that fought back.
Then he will see,
When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.
I heard the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct.
At the turn of the 20th century, their numbers were
estimated to be a million, but we have not seen one since 2006.
They've been completely hacked from the watering hole,
horns snagged in a bag of poacher tricks
Poachers love to maim.
Saw off sanctity and pummel bone into grit.
They are not uncommon.
I am 15,
my friend's birthday party.
There is a poacher at the sleepover.
He grins at me from across the room.
I did not know to not trust those dark teeth.
smile glints long and jagged like hunting knife.
Poachers are clever as heat.
It is 5:00 am,
the couch starts shaking.
I've never seen such kill in a man's eyes
I'm snared in drowsy's net
My hard legs scream stop.
This is the trigger.
He unsheathes his smile,
The moon beams against his wobbling hands
The rest was easy.
his wrist in my waist,
the fear in my sweat
his hands pound into my pelvic bone
Give me it damn it.
He is ruthless,
I can never show my thighs again, they are too hunted and gashed,
his knife carved them foul. I will forever be muddied in his poacher's grime,
I pray that no one will ever see how violated I've become.
I will haul this with me to college.
Where I will shiver at parties
because I think everyone has Drowsy's net sitting in their back pockets.
Where I will look into my roommate's eyes,
pray that he won't have the kill of a poacher,
that he won't yank a hunting knife out at 5am
and maim me like I'm just another rhino.