Nobody

Aren’t you tired of being too loud for these niggas to hear you?
Aren’t you sick of being too small for the space you’re meant to occupy, too large, too loud for everywhere else?
Isn’t it exhausting being woman and black and battered and beaten and still standing?
But Nobody’s got you, sis.

If we don’t raise the men
and their children
and their children
and the teachers
and the adminstators
the lawmakers
the parents
the fucking Nazis
if we don’t carry them on our backs,
above our own heads?
if we don’t sink deeper into the ground-
muddy and battered
it won’t get done.

Aren’t you tired of defining your strength
by how much shit you can swallow
and weave into gold?
There is no place for your burdens to be laid down
so your shoulders sag
your legs are bruised, your hips wide and heavy.

Your love is given too freely to men who bite:
who punch, who demean, who betray.
And they’ll laugh at you when it hurts
You’re weak if the shits comes back up out of your lips.

How dare you want things that aren’t for someone else:
Love
Respect
Gratitude
Shit, a moment to fucking breathe
without a man on top of you, inside of you
reaching and grabbing at you
Needing the good you make-
a place to hide from his own bullshit

Don’t you wish you could go outside without your armor on?
Ain’t you physically ill thinking of the compromises you’ve had to make,
Of those you will make someday soon?
Because you know nothing gets done without you
no one else can endure like you
the abuse
the violence
the injustice

Cuz ain’t nobody got US, sis.
Just
You.

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How

How can I make our love more like Saturday mornings after too much wine?
More like Tuesday quickies at 6 am, cuz fuck it- I’d rather be late to work
More like forehead kisses goodbye
Like intertwined fingers and flirtatious eyes
Like evenings watching the stars in your lap
Like massaging your shoulders until you fall asleep
Like watching you react to every bite of dinner
Like you always being my dessert

How can I make our love sweeter, simpler-
The feeling of chasing fireflies on summer nights
Of falling asleep outside
Of a very first kiss-
With you?

Again & Again

We make the promise
Again-
You go that way,
I’ll go this way.
Still, you keep coming back to me.

You smell of other women’s perfume,
Of rotting corpses:
The half eaten lives
You promise me
Again & Again

You give me anxiety-
My nails scratch away at my skin
Leaving red rashes in their wake-
In your wake.

I’m tired of circling this planet
Only to find you
Only to love you
To fear you
To hate you-
Again & Again.

Sons Borne

I know that men are not trained to be gentle
You take pride in your rough hands- that you work hard
That your mother doesn’t have to work anymore.

But you don’t listen when she tells you how lonely she feels
Behind her white picket fences
Spending her days trapped on the porch swing you built

She doesn’t want to exist solely for you–
Not if you won’t sit beside her every day.
Her love has long died and she is still here
For you.
Waiting for your okay to fade into the black of the night
To rebuild her own world
But all you can hear is that she’s bored-that her life is boring.

Have you ever sat with your grandmother-let her spill to you the great scandals of her life?Your grandfather had to climb Mt. Olympus to get her attention-
She used to smoke in public and wear fitted pants and she never got her nails done
And what a sight she was to behold- your mother’s mother-
You,  her legacy.

Sometimes you brag about paying your sisters rent
Being the man she can rely on- being strong
But she won’t admit her belly’s growing until you ask her directly
Won’t volunteer the delicate nature of her heart’s desire- the fragile situation she’s gotten herself in-loving a man too much like fire
Being burned.
Don’t let shame or anger darken your face when at last she must confess- she’s moving back home,  dropping out of school,  having a baby boy.

Men are not trained to be gentle,  my love
But that is no excuse.
The world does not belong to you- you are not the God around whom we must revolve.
Do not assume that it is only you- working,  stressing,  praying,  overcoming.
It was borne in your bones- inherited like the color of your eyes,  the texture of your hair.
You must learn to give credit where it is due.
There is no one who can make themselves.

Pt.2

When you were little you sat on the toilet in the good bathroom
And mom braided your hair.
It’s weird,  being black of a white mother
Like being raised by a tiger rather than a lioness
And as many times as it frustrated you
That day,  when you were late because Mom drew criss-crossed braids across your scalp
Reinforced your identity as best she could.
And that boy,  that day,  he told you you had the best hair in the whole school.

Mango skin

The smell in the kitchen: plantains caramelizing in the pan.

Whispers of sugary starch browning in coconut oil

This is an experience that,  growing up,  you could only share with the people in your home.

The sweetest sugar cane water filling your mouth in the summertime.

The drip of mango juice down your face.

You learn to keep those flavors right at the tip of your tongue.

Daddy taught you to eat the skin

And you take life that way-bitter with the juice.

For Ava

Last night, my mom invited me and my younger brother out to a work event that involved drinking. My mom is a very serious engineer manager for an Oil and Gas company. We agreed nonetheless, because we have learned over time that sometimes her work colleagues are really fun once they start drinking and also because: free beer. And we were having fun. It took us almost an hour to find the table where her coworkers were hanging out.

When we did, it wasn’t long before the coworker across the table started staring at me, as if he couldn’t look away. Finally, he tells us his “youngest adopted daughter” is “biracial” and looks just like me. Of course she does. Unable to stand it, he comes around to the other side of the table and sits what I feel is a little too close to where my body is housed on the bench seats.

“So, everything is the same with Ava except her hair. We just don’t know what to do with it. And it’s just like yours-I mean you look just like her!” I smile. Politely I tell him it’s different talking care of my hair than my mother’s.

“You wash your hair every day?” I ask my mom.

“Every other day.” She responds.

“I wash my hair like once a month, ” I tell him, “otherwise it gets dry.”

“Malika knows a lot about this. She does a lot of research online.” This is true. I am the black daughter of a white woman, so I’ve done a lot of research into many things to do with being black.

Months ago, my good friend Courtney and I went to out to eat and catch up at the only Ethiopian restaurant in Oklahoma and were overwhelmed by a table filled with white adults and noticeably Ethiopian children. As we ate, we broached the topic of white people with babies from other countries. As I began to explain my belief that it was a current manifestation of the white man’s burden, a young girl came over to our table. She was about 4 or 5 by looking at her and she was touching Courtney’s hand as if she couldn’t believe that it existed. The same color as hers! Here were the people that had been hidden from her world, right before her eyes.

Her parents came over and apologized, explaining she was awestruck by Courtney ‘s natural hair, because she had never seen hair like ours.

Here’s the problem I keep facing as punishment for wearing my hair natural, for being black born of a white mother: I am the easy way out.

Yet, I give away my hard earned secrets. As if the knowledge is owed to them. I am now a black hair expert in the flesh, available for all the white folks adopting little black girls who look just like me because America has run out of white babies no one wants. I am the neighborhood know it all.

I want to stop playing nice with white couples who believe that raising black children is the same as raising white children, except of course, their hair texture. The very idea is offensive to people who have spent their lives being black, and know intimately that our hair texture is the least of it. I want to tell them that google is available on all electronic devices that can connect to the internet.  I want to yell at them that if they can’t start looking for answers like it’s important to them now, then their little Avas’ will notice some day.

But I worry. If I don’t tell the white people the way to keep their daughter’s hair styled, combed and moisturized, or convince them of its importance, how will the young girls fare? I always get frustrated thinking of the little girls who play in their mothers’ hair and cannot feel themselves in it. I worry about the hearts and self esteem of little girls who look up to women who look absolutely nothing like they do or will.

White people, this is your sin. Always swooping in and saving us with black skin. the best meaning intentions. Yet you deny us access to the things our hearts need in “our best interests.” You are always the hero teacher who saves us from the ghetto just in time to get into your colleges. You are constantly casting yourselves as the savior and us the tragic victims.

I want the little girls to learn how to take care of their hair as they grow. I want the people who raise them to understand that this matters. If they grow up learning only to lament the color of their skin, and the texture of their hair, it will be such a long journey to healthy self esteem. And that will not make you saviors at all.

Running

White skinned women, who parade about in their workout gear all day

But never seem to break a sweat

Like to cross the road when they see us coming.

For the record, I want to be intimidating to women too posh

to know the difference between Mexican and Puerto Rican

Too segregated in their white picket neighborhoods to recognize

They live in a different world than me.

I would like them to second guess themselves when they see me coming.

I mumble prayers under my breath they won’t try to touch my hair

Drunk sorority girls won’t ask me where to find black dick.

Bitch don’t you see me walking here, living without you.

Let me continue in peace.

But nobody should treat my little round rescue like she escaped death row.

My pitbull has never tried to intimidate a person in her life

And yet she is so much more adept at it than me.

And it shouldn’t bother me. Not as much as it does

That these women I don’t want to come near us

Pretend they don’t see us on the street. Or worse.

When one day I let my womb swell up and give birth to babies as brown as this earth

I better not see one white woman consider crossing the street away from us.

I hope for their sake, they never think they can avoid dealing with our existence

It would be a terrible mistake.

I can’t imagine ever finding the words to teach my children

How to step out of white women’s way

To hold their heads low like they’ve nothing but shame

So no stray person walking thinks they are plotting some evil.

I want my children to grow as children.

To play in their neighborhood without fear of the weapons carried by scared white men

Why are people so afraid

Based on what they’ve seen on tv shows written by them, for them, starring them, featuring us:

robbing, killing, stealing, beating raping

Each other.

White skinned women, who think the playing field is even

Even as they pretend their movements in fear of us are unconscious.

You are the evil my children will fear all their lives.

The embarrassment of being feared for nothing

Of being cast dangerous for nothing.

Of your husbands returning to threaten them for NOTHING.

So if you see my baby and me walking and think of crossing the street

Don’t worry we can together help you work up a sweat,

bitch you better start running.

Father

Shutter stutter step, prance halfway in the room.

You are Rudolph. Your nose is bright red, scheming silent guidance in a room for just us.

Be purposeful. Speak your words with strength.

Pretend you know the answers until you have to concede to google.

You are encyclopedias of perfection. You know how many syllables are in onomatopoeia off the top of your head.

You know six synonyms for the word love.

But you know that none measure up to the feeling of the word “love”.

Carry them on your back, even when you’re tired.

Let them suck away every bit of your excitement and build it back up anyways.

Give all your hope over to them, let them swallow all that you are whole.

They are the moons reflect your shining existence.

You are God to them. You are God to me.

For A Man Who Would Love Me

I don’t want your fire to overpower mine.

But sometimes, I quiet crystallize it, capture it in stone. Vow to come back and erupt. Never do.

Your fire takes precedence. It burns white hot and no one ever taught you how to hold it-yourself still.

You don’t even want to know.

No one ever taught you to put me first.

I don’t want to live in your shadow.

But sometimes, I shrink down miniscule water droplets, turn gray black shade,

Pretend I am made of porcelain, precious magic to protect. Ego nursing.

I want to be so big that sometimes you can’t even fit in the house without

Honey I shrunk the Kids-ing yourself.

I want to take up more space than sometimes kept in cages, in thoughts,

Dipped in batter and swallowed whole.

I am made of flexible material. Both crystal and steel, yet silk and feathers. Too light, too pure to fight beside.

Compare me to the builds of horses, of fast moving cars, the softness of baby’s skin, warmth of sunshine,

How clingy your woman is-

How she clings to you as if she cannot live without you inside of her.

I don’t want to be a person you can fold: Laundried bones, skin like tarps, heart collapsible like convenient toys.

I don’t like being a voice in the back of the head of children & men.

I want to be heard, voice expanding the space in the room, the house so effected,

I add rings to already dead trees, wood in our floors.

And sometimes, you will have to learn to shrink-to crystallize your fire and let mine wash you over.

Find comfort in my burning rays, tingling through to your fingertips, toes alive for the white hot fury I send into the atmosphere.

Because I am not like you-all stone and fire, no silk.

I have been trained to make myself disappear, so tiny, you will lose me.

And your world will be made worse for the loss.