BlaPoWriMo: Odyssey of the Tragic Mulatto

Black comes
in many shades
but one—
Too white
I am—
Skin like
alabaster, hair
ruffles in the
breeze like
petals of
daffodils—
Curly in places,
frizzy in places—

Not enough to
stay my father
after three months,
not enough to
inherit the love
of his people—
Meek complexion
reminds them
of my mother,
and grandmother,
my great-grandmother,
how they perched
on pedestals, played
ignorant to their
husbands’ rompings
in the quarters,
abused the
bastard children
and sent them away.

My first love
loved me for my
resemblance to
the white women
he coveted, warned
me I’m no better
with his fists.
Black like him
underneath, with
every blow, he
brought my blackness
to the surface—
Blue bruises
the size of
grapefruits
blot my arms,
Purple boot prints
tread across my
chest and stomach,
red rashes spread
from the fingers
wrapped around my
neck, cutting off air,
black eyes, from every
punch, swell shut,
immersing me in darkness.

When I die, let the
priest open my casket—
Naked, let the world
see the discolored
calluses, a melanin
absorbed through cruelty.
Let no one ever say
I wasn’t black—
I was every black woman,
brutalized and discarded
just the same.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month, 2017— a fortnight of “black” love poetry (not all love poems are “romantic”). Join the challenge and share your love poems today!

Featured Image: Actress Fredi Washington

BlaPoWriMo: Love Amid the Fire

Love Tanka #8

Grandma tells me love
is an action verb, more than
kisses and sweet treats.
Love is sable like Grandpa’s
black skin— Covered in soot, he

cradled his crying
child to his chest, shielded her
ears from the howling
wolves in white hoods. While behind
him the house of worship burned.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month, 2017— a fortnight of “black” love poetry. Join the challenge and share your love poems today!

BlaPoWriMo: Oh, How I Love Jesus

after “slaveship” by Lucille Clifton

not to be stripped
from Mother’s womb
chained to corpses
and the near dead
cargo traded for
tobacco and rum
in the Hope*  of our
Lord. the heat the
sweat the release
of bowels the stench
of food we never ate
filling our lungs.

Oh, how I love
Jesus*  shipped us
across hostile seas
tossed to and fro
with every wind and
torrent. flung
overboard some of
our own accord into
a world of red faced
savages**  who preached
divine providence—
Sons of Ham
predestined to bow
under the whip.

Oh, how I love Jesus
heard my back
break from the ground
heard arise a wail
song for deliverance
like those who
crossed the Sea of
Reeds on dry land
heard us sing low
from our bellies—
trouble the waters
flush out our pursuers—
and I’ll hope on
the Lord because
He first loved me.

—Nortina

* “Hope of the Lord”; “Jesus” — Hope and Jesus were names of slave ships

** “red faced savages” — in his Narrative, Olaudah Equiano described his captors having “red faces and loose hair” and behaving in “so savage a manner.”


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month, 2017— a fortnight of “black” love poetry. Join the challenge and share your love poems today!

#BlaPoWriMo: When Peaches Were in Season

Years later, and I still remember
your ginger hair, red like the sky
just before dusk, after the sun
has set behind the cotton fields,
and we’re back in the quarters,
you lying in hay, my face in the
roots of your crown, smelling the
spiced peaches you prepared for
the Missus. One night you snuck
a jar under the folds of your skirt,
and we hid in the balcony above
the chicken coup, slurping the
slimy sweet fruit between cinnamon
crusted fingers, dripping maple
syrup between wood planks into the
den of orange and brown feathers.
It was the only time you ever kissed
me, leaving behind the sticky,
sugary stain between my nose and
upper lip. I never wiped it off.
Not even when Ol’ Whalen tore my
back raw for loving his wench. Not
when he sent me to the driver to
break me. Not when Mama Celia
delivered your baby lighter than
you. No, not even when they sold
you to the rice plantation in South
Caroline, and I watched you dragged
behind the cart in chains, still
swollen from your recent labor, and
when you turned around one last time
to call goodbye, your crying eyes
leaking streaks of blood. But I still
remember your syrupy lips, fastened to
my rough, wiry beard two seconds shorter
than I wanted it to last, the caramelized
peaches squeezed between your teeth,
your copper hair flipped over your
face, a veil to hide your deepest thoughts,
until I parted the spirally locks
and met your stuffed cheeked grin,
oozing cinnamon and maple peach juice
from the corners of your mouth.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month, 2017— a fortnight of “black” love poetry. Join the challenge and share your love poems today!

Black History – Black Actresses

Peaceful Journey Mindset Strategies

Cleopatra Jones (1973)2
(This tribute is to throw back Black Movies – Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson)
 and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) were the brown girls who were the Charlie’s Angels
of my day…these women were baaaad to the bones, but in a good way. They
demonstrated women of strength and courage, they stood tall and strong)
`

Agents Foxy and I are on a mission.

Oh yes, this mission will seem impossible.

However, due to certain activities, we’re going inside

We’ve been given this special assignment and want to know what really

goes on behind those closed doors- at a certain undisclosed

location we’ll not naming.

It’s important our identity remains anonymous.

Who or how many are recruited to assist in handling this

discreet task of going undercover-to provide the information

we’re in search of without their actions exposed is not known.

But, rest assured, no doubt, this is a clandestine operation-

there is no fear tolerated in handling these secret affairs.

The person(s) undertaking such a task should be above reproach,

have good character, and possess intelligence.

Once inside the undisclosed location, you will understand why it…

View original post 63 more words

Black Poetry Writing Month: Bonus Prompt

The first ever Black Poetry Writing Month project ends on a day that only comes once every four years. How poetic! It was fun being your hostess, and I would like to thank everyone who participated, liked, commented, reblogged, retweeted, shared on Facebook, etc. Your positive feedback only motivates me to continue this project every February for years to come.

I’m so proud that my inner procrastinator took a back seat and allowed me to post a new prompt every day (it was a struggle some days, especial on the weekends). Over the next year, I’ll explore new ways to make the prompts more interesting and fun so that everyone can participate, whether you are a poet or not, whether you are black or not. Don’t let the “Black” part deter you. Black Poetry Writing Month, Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, Black “anything” does not mean anti-white. As I said in my introductory post, it’s simply a celebration of how far we’ve come and a reminder that we still have much to do.

As I tell my people who complain about Black History Month being in February, don’t let this month be the only time you write a “black” poem. Write whenever you feel inspired. The prompts are still up. You can come back to them anytime. As I did not write a poem for every single prompt, I know I will. If you missed any of the prompts, or if you’re just discovering Black Poetry Writing Month at its close, here they are again:

Write a Poem that Ignites

Write a Poem for the Activist

Write a Poem for the Voter

Write a Poem for Your Elders

Write a Poem for the Lost Soldier

Write a Poem for Your Sons

Write a Poem About an Incident

Write a Poem for the Mask Wearer

Write a Poem in Dialect

Write a Poem for the “Dark Girl”

I want to interrupt the list on a quick side note. For those of you who follow my Sunday Morning Word series, you know I love spoken word poetry. While spoken word is not exclusively black, there is such raw talent, power, and emotion in the way many black poets perform their poems, especially when the subject of the poem focuses on the sometimes uncomfortable issue of race in America.

I came across two poems that closely relate to the prompt about the underappreciated, “ugly” black woman. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to share most (they are equally powerful), so I decided on both. The first is called “Stay Woke.” If you recognize one of the poets in this duo, she’s Kai Davis. I shared another poem of hers in one of my first blog posts—a subject that I return to often: “acting white.”

What do you think? Has anyone else awoken from that performance? Ok, let’s pick up where we left off . . .

Write a Poem for the Weary Slave

Write a Poem for the Community

Write a Poem for the Strong Black Woman

Write a Poem for the Black Orator

Write a Song for the Field Slaves

Write a Poem for the Slave Mother

Write a Poem for the “Don’t Care Negro”

Write a Poem of Double Consciousness

Interrupting the list again. I didn’t forget about the second spoken word poem I wanted to share. While the first one was a very animated performance that had a few laughing moments, this one is much more heartbreaking. Titled, “To Be Black and Woman and Alive,” it is again talking about the self-hatred of black women and the unseen beauty of their bodies. Watch.

I hope one of these spoken word pieces speaks to you today. I hope they inspire you to write a poem that awakens an ignorant world, that admires the beauty in everyone equally, inside and out. Maybe it’ll inspire you to take a dab at spoken word poetry. These women are talented wordsmiths and speakers. I would love to one day perform my poetry as effortlessly as they do.

Now, let’s finish the list of Black Poetry Writing Month prompts . . .

Write a Poem About a “Beverly Hills, Chicago”

Write a Poem for the Cool Kids

Write a Song from the Front Yard

Write a Poem Inspired by Music

Write a Poem that Remembers (Black) History

Write a Poem that Promotes Self-Love

Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

Write a Poem for the At-Risk Youth

Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Write a Poem that Starts a Conversation

And that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who participated, spread the word, provided insight, or simply just enjoyed the idea of having a Black Poetry Writing Month. See you next February!

By the way, when NaPoWriMo comes around in April, don’t hesitate to come back to one of these prompts for inspiration. Like I said before, BlaPoWriMo shouldn’t be limited to just one month. 🙂

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem that Remembers (Black) History

at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989

among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names.

nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your fingerprints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.

tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify.

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were 
recognized.

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of these honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies
hear

—Lucille Clifton

 

If there is anyone out there who still questions the importance of Black History Month, I encourage you to read this poem by Lucille Clifton. Clifton was inspired to write the poem after taking a trip to Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina and noticing that there was no mention of slaves. “Be serious!” she said in a 1995 interview, a two thousand acre plantation in early nineteenth century South Carolina definitely had slaves.

She suggested that the tour guide check the inventory—since slaves were considered property—and they discovered there were ten slaves; however, this number did not include women, who apparently weren’t even valuable enough be considered part of the inventory. This struck a chord within Clifton, and she found her poem.

Just as in Walnut Grove Plantation, many labors, accomplishments, etc. of blacks go unnoticed, overshadowed by that of whites. For example, Thomas Edison is credited for the invention of the light bulb, but how many people know that it was a black man who actually made it work? Or that Deputy U.S. Marshall, Bass Reeves, a black man, was the inspiration behind the Lone Ranger series. Black women rarely receive the recognition they deserve either, often fading into the background. We see it politics, Hollywood, at home. Sometimes, black women even do it to themselves. I read in a book once that you can always measure the racial progress of the country by looking at the status of black women because they are usually the last to receive their “freedoms.”

958514c4b35920847fd7ec44bd73d751_1e6

This is why that last line in Clifton’s poem is so important. “Hear.” We’ve got to stop being ignorant to our history, to the struggles of people less fortunate than us. I think we all “know” what happens outside our little worlds we close ourselves in, but we choose to remain blind and use the excuse, “Nobody told me.” Listen, racism isn’t as covert as you think. Injustice happens in plain sight every day, and too many people write it off as “shit happens.” No, shit like this shouldn’t happen. Not if we know our history. Not if we understand the struggles of others.

You see, we cannot ignore history. History doesn’t go away. The past isn’t back there, the past is here too.

—Lucille Clifton fromThe Language of Life: A festival of Poets. By Bill Moyers

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem that remembers history. Too many voices of our black foremothers and forefathers go unheard. They have a place in our story too. And although it may feel embarrassing or uncomfortable, it needs to be heard. Force your readers to open their ears and listen.

—Nortina

#BlaPoWriMo: Farewell (poem)

Squeeze my finger one last time,
your stubby digits enclosed around
my knuckles. You look just like
your father before they disfigured
his face with iron muzzle, bit
down his tongue on rusted metal.

I will always remember the way your
eyes slowly open, adjusting to the
morning sun, how you upchuck just
a little on my breast from nursing
too hurriedly. Let that hunger for
your mother never go away—

Even when you can no longer hear my
voice, when my touch is cool, faint
from the distance, when they beat
you ’til your back blisters open and
your muslin shirt irritates the
wounds my hands cannot heal.

Your cries will echo forever, and
one day when this system crumbles
on its head, and our chains are
broken free, I’ll follow them North,
like the brightest stars in the sky,
’til my embrace calms you once more.

—Nortina

#BlaPoWriMo: No, No, No (poem)

No, no, no.
Ain’t breakin’ my back today, Lawd.
No, no, no
Dey whip my boy in de head, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Him run to de woods halfway, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Found him pa in a shallow grave, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Mista gotta rep fir breakin’ slaves, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Drag my boy behind de hay, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Can’t hear no screams, I say, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Let him pain be brief, I pray, Lawd.
No, no, no.
I’ll keep pickin’ til I’m dead, Lawd.
No, no, no.
Keep pickin’ til we dead.

—Nortina


Written for BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a work song for the field slaves.

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Slave Mother

The Slave Mother

Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair.

—Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, from Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854)

Selling a mother from her child. [1840]
Selling a mother from her child. [1840]
Frances E.W. Harper’s poem, “The Slave Mother” illustrates one of the cruelest realities of slavery: the tearing apart of the black family. Slaves were considered the property of their white slave owners. Slaves could be sold, bought, traded; owners could do whatever they pleased to their slaves with little to no consequence.

The slave status of a child followed that of the child’s mother, so if the mother was a slave, so too was the child. This was done to ensure that black children born to white men remained in bondage. Slave mothers were even forbidden to reveal who the fathers of their children were because very often the father was the slave master—of course, the child’s fair skin would’ve easily given it away. In this system, there was no such thing as family. Marriage or blood relation meant nothing if the slave master saw a profit.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the slave mother and her child. How does she cope with the realization that the child she birthed is not hers? What are her final words to him before he’s torn from her arms? Will he remember her voice, her face, her lips on his cheek?

—Nortina