FTP #BlaPoWriMo

I keep a list of names in my chest pocket

and wear it like a bullet-proof vest.

Trayvon Martin

Sandra Bland

A scroll that writes itself each

time the pigs shout “Hands up!”

Tamir Rice

Philando Castile

Then pull the trigger. It descends

to my feet, lays a path by which

Michael Brown

Walter Scott

I march toward the Capitol steps

to call for justice. I roll it tighter

Eric Garner

Breonna Taylor

The longer it gets. One day it will

be thick enough to block the

Ahmaud Arbery

George Floyd

Bullets when they shoot. But

when that happens, who truly wins?

Lost in the Twilight Zone Marathon | Ep 4 | Midnight Protest

The protest starts at noon. Anyone committed to real change, who truly wants equal treatment of all people, no matter their race, will be there.

“You know the mayor’s implemented a curfew,” Jordan says. “Everyone’s gotta be back home by sundown.”

“Protest’s at noon. Plenty of time,” I say, looking out the window. I check the time on my phone. Nine fifteen. But the sun has yet to make an appearance.

“You know these things get violent.”

“They only get violent because incompetent leadership completely miss the entire point. They respond to the protests against police brutality with more police brutality.”

“All the more for you to stay at home.”

“Did Reggie Thomas have that option?”

Reggie Thomas, the latest Twitter hashtag. Gunned down in front of his home at the corner of Maple and Floral Steet. He looked suspicious, was their excuse. Recent string of burglaries in the neighborhood, and he was running out of the house wearing a mask.

Everyone is wearing a mask. It’s COVID. But that was probable cause enough to shoot him seven times. If he was truly a burglar, wouldn’t he have been running away from the cops instead of toward them? But they didn’t bother to question their assumptions, didn’t ask why he was running, because the policy for Black men is always to shoot first. Neutralize the presumed threat.

If they had asked, they would’ve known he was a frontline worker. For the last two weeks he’d been home caring for his grandmother, recently diagnosed, because he didn’t want to take the chance of hospital triage skipping over her because there weren’t enough ICU beds and she had too low a chance of survival, even if put on a ventilator.

If they had simply asked, they would have known that her lips had just turned blue, that her heavy breathing had just gone silent. He saw the squad car in the window and ran out to get help, hoping that maybe they could get a ride to the hospital without having to call the ambulance and avoid the insanely high bill for a drive just two miles up the road.

Instead, he was met with three bullets to the chest. One to the shoulder. Two to the face. One to the groin. They cocked their guns and fired without even saying a word.

Two lives were lost that day, when they should have been saved.

“Okay, Mary Sue, social justice warrior.”

“Don’t mock me.”

“I’m not mocking. I’m being practical. People don’t like being shown their own biases.”

“Well, they should. It’s the only way things will get better.” I close the curtain and return to making my picket sign.

***

Ten to twelve, and we’re on our way to Maple and Floral, where the protest is set to begin. It will start with a memorial by the signpost in his grandmother’s yard. Then we’ll make our march to City Hall, where the entire police department is sure to be waiting in tactical gear, along with the National Guard.

I look out the window toward the sky, which has gotten even darker since earlier this morning. It looks like one giant all-encompassing cloud. No break of sunlight. No peak of blue.

“Is it supposed to rain?” I ask.

Jordan drums his fingers on the steering will. “I don’t think so.”

“Why is it so dark?”

“Maybe it’s a sign.”

“You won’t talk me out of this.”

He gives me a side-eye and smirks. “I know. But the second niggas start burning down buildings, we’re out. Your safety is more important to me.”

Ever the protector. I can’t help but adore him, even if our political ideologies don’t always align.

Crowds are starting to gather when we arrive. Jordan parks in an empty lot behind a church a few blocks down, and we walk the rest of the way. I hold my sign above my head. Blank brown faces encircle the words:

Why does my skin make me look dangerous?

Jordan points. “I actually like this one. It’s not so cliche.” Ahead of us, hovering over the wave of bodies, are signs that say, “No justice, no peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Defund the police,” “White silence = White consent.”

“See?” He chuckles.

“The message is more important.”

“Sure.”

***

At the top of the hour, the voice of the protest’s organizer comes on the megaphone to open the day’s events with a prayer for Reggie Thomas and his family, for the state of our city and the country as a whole, for wisdom in leadership, for peace that surpasses all understanding. She’s shaky at first. We all feel the same uneasiness. The sky is Black now. Black like midnight. The automatic streetlights have turned on, but even they are dim. I can barely see Jordan as I reach for his hand. He squeezes mine reassuringly as we begin our march toward City Hall, deeper into the darkness.

“No justice!” the organizer calls.

“No peace!” we all respond.

“No justice!”

“No peace!”

We continue our chant for several miles, our feet guided by the light of our cellphones. There is no traffic. All along the route, cars are pulled over to the side of the road, though their passengers don’t seem to be interested in justice for Reggie Thomas. They remain inside. Some stand on the curb. All have worry in their eyes, but I doubt we are the cause.

“It must be an eclipse or something,” Jordan says in my ear.

“Wouldn’t it be on the news?”

“We could’ve missed it. All they’re covering are the protests these days.”

But wouldn’t an eclipse at least show a hint of sun? Wouldn’t the Blackest night at least give us a glimpse of the stars?

The megaphone grows more faint the further we march. It becomes harder to hear the lead call, even though we’re near the front of the line. We mimic what those around us say.

“No racist!”

“Police!”

“No racist!”

“Police!”

“Babe?” Jordan says.

Coming into view are the tall columns of City Hall. In front of it, its wall of defense. Black uniforms. Black guns and batons. Black shields. Black helmets. So much Black, we can’t distinguish their faces. For all we know, their bodies could be Black like ours.

“I don’t like this. I don’t feel good about this.” Jordan turns around, appearing to scan for an easy exit, but it’s hard to see anything now. And as we slow to a stop, the flashlights on our phones go out, as if they’ve drained all the battery. The dim streetlights flicker, then die. It’s Black all around now, as if a blanket has descended upon our faces. If only I could just reach out and grab it, yank it down. Eerie silence engulfs us, save for a few clicks and pops ahead.

“This is going to be a slaughter.”

“Shhh!”

The ring of the megaphone reverberates against the concrete buildings on either side of us, but then all is quiet again. We stand and wait for the next call and response. For commands from the law enforcement presence before us. For intimidation tactics in the forms of tear gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets.

We stand. And we wait.


We are entering the witching hour and hour four of our Twilight Zone blogging marathon. This story was brought to you by the episode “I Am the Night, Color Me Black,” with easter eggs to “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Together We . . .

What is there left to say? That is the question we must ask ourselves this final week of BlaPoWriMo. Does black poetry/literature still exist today, and if it does, for what purpose? Well, this poem, originally published February 15, 2016, explains why we still need black poetry…

Photo by @createdbyjarrod from nappy.co

Together We . . .

Together we hood our faces,
stuff our pockets with
Skittles and Arizona tea.

Together we lose the air
to our lungs from cigarette
smoke, forearms curled
around our throats.

Together we put our hands up,
surrender to tear gas
and rubber bullets
on evening news.

Together we are body slammed
in bathing suits, flipped
over school desks, strangled
from showerheads, executed
where children play.

Together we pray for peace—
as strangers wave battle
flags, hide assault
rifles behind Bibles.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem that Promotes Self-Love

Black Bourgeoisie

has a gold tooth, sits long hours
on a stool thinking about money.
sees white skin in a secret room
rummages his sense for sense
dreams about Lincoln (s)
conks his daughter’s hair
sends his coon to school
works very hard
grins politely in restaurants
has a good word to say
never says it
does not hate ofays
hates, instead, him self
him black self.

—Amiri Baraka

 

The primary objective for phrases such as Black is Beautiful, Black and Proud, Black Girl Magic, Black Lives Matter, Black Girls Rock, and many others is to promote self-love in a society where hatred of the black body is the norm. They are also meant to combat self-hatred, which is very common within the black community.

Self-hatred stems from the internalization of others’ opinions about ourselves. Let’s look at hair as an example. For years, black women have put dangerous chemicals into their hair to alter its naturally kinky texture because the dominant society has said their hair is too “nappy,” too “ugly,” and too “unprofessional.” Today, many black woman are tossing those assumptions to the wind and embracing their natural hair, which is beautiful. However, there are still a lot of people, men and women, in the black community who don’t like natural hair, whether it’s preferring loser curl patterns over kinkier ones, or “liking” natural hair but still thinking the afro is unkempt.

woman-with-natural-hair

Another example would be the contempt that upper (or middle) class black folk (or the black bourgeoisie) often have toward those from the lower class. They think they’re better. They may have a degree and a good paying job and so assume that all blacks who live on minimum wage are lazy. They may view all black men who wear oversized clothing and talk slang are thugs. They may try their hardest to fit into society and pretend they’re not as “colored” as those loud, ghetto blacks over there. They may spend most of their time trying to prove that common stereotypes associated with black people applies to ever other black person but themselves. They may prefer to socialize with white people or people of other ethnicities over blacks because blacks “don’t know how to act” in public.

All of these are forms of internalized self-hate. While some may not see it that way, we have to remember where assumptions like the “too nappy” afro hair or the “loud, ghetto, don’t know how to act in public” black person originated. It wasn’t from blacks, but after hundreds of years of being beaten down and oppressed by slavery, and later by Jim Crow, black people have unknowingly accepted those horrible stereotypes about themselves as truths. Now, we’re doing the jobs of the racists for them, putting ourselves down. It’s time we break that cycle.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem that embraces black beauty and promotes the love of all black people—relaxed and natural, quiet and loud, well-behaved and party animals, educated and street smart. Let’s break the cycle of self-hate.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for Your Sons

A Note on My Son’s Face

I.
Tonight, I look, thunderstruck
at the gold head of my grandchild.
Almost asleep, he buries his feet
between my thighs;
his little straw eyes
close in the near dark.
I smell the warmth of his raw
slightly foul breath, the new death
waiting to rot inside him.
Our breaths equalize our heartbeats;
every muscle of the chest uncoils,
the arm bones loosen in the nest
of nerves. I think of the peace
of walking through the house,
pointing to the name of this, the name of that,
an educator of a new man.

Mother. Grandmother. Wise
Snake-woman who will show the way;
Spider-woman whose black tentacles
hold him precious. Or will tear off his head,
her teeth over the little husband,
the small fist clotted in trust at her breast.

This morning, looking at the face of his father,
I remembered how, an infant, his face was too dark,
nose too broad, mouth too wide.
I did not look in that mirror
and see the face that could save me
from my own darkness.
Did he, looking in my eye, see
what I turned from:
my own dark grandmother
bending over gladioli in the field,
her shaking black hand defenseless
at the shining cock of flower?

I wanted that face to die,
to be reborn in the face of a white child.

I wanted the soul to stay the same,
for I loved to death,
to damnation and God-death,
the soul that broke out of me.
I crowed: My Son! My Beautiful!
But when I peeked in the basket,
I saw the face of a black man.

Did I bend over his nose
and straighten it with my fingers
like a vine growing the wrong way?
Did he feel my hand in malice?

Generations we prayed and fucked
for this light child,
the shining god of the second coming;
we bow down in shame
and carry the children of the past
in our wallets, begging forgiveness.

II.
A picture in a book,
a lynching.
The bland faces of men who watch
a Christ go up in flames, smiling,
as if he were a hooked
fish, a felled antelope, some
wild thing tied to boards and burned.
His charring body
gives off light—a halo
burns out of him.
His face scorched featureless;
the hair matted to the scalp
like feathers.
One man stands with his hand on his hip,
another with his arm
slung over the shoulder of a friend,
as if this moment were large enough
to hold affection.

III.
How can we wake
from a dream
we are born into,
that shines around us,
the terrible bright air?

Having awakened,
having seen our own bloody hands,
how can we ask forgiveness,
bring before our children the real
monster of their nightmares?

The worst is true.
Everything you did not want to know.

—Toi Derricotte, from Captivity (1989)

 

The speaker of this poem expresses true fears that even in 2016 we cannot escape. In the past year and a half we’ve seen televised on national news media the killings of numerous innocent young black men. Mothers cry out for there children, burying them much too soon while the outlets seek ways to justify the murders.

He was wearing a hoodie; he must be a thug. He was playing his rap music too loudly; he should be used to hearing bullets in the background. He was six feet tall, over 200 pounds, and dark skin; that automatically qualifies him as armed and dangerous. He was waving a (toy) gun; he was asking to be shot.

A mother pulls back the blanket to see her precious baby boy and instead she finds the face of a black man. A stereotyped brute with a target on his back. Already his expiry clock is counting down. How soon will he be taken away from her? Twenty-four? Seventeen? Sixteen? Eighteen? Twelve?

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When she says, “I wanted that face to die/to be reborn in the face of a white child,” it’s not because she hates his skin, but she understands that white sons live longer; their skin hasn’t been charred with the dark histories of hatred, imagined fear.

Maybe a white son will be safe the morning she forgets to pray over him before he exists the front door. Maybe a white son will graduate high school without bullet holes in his body, go to college without a noose around his neck. Maybe a white son will make it to a jail cell alive if ever arrested. Maybe a white son will live to see his twenty-first birthday. Maybe a white son will get to play cops and robbers like other little boys without being labeled a menace.

Black or white, losing a child is never easy, but for a black mother to have hers snatched from her protective embrace and then watch him be demonized by those who never knew him, who could never understand how hard she tried to shelter him from the monsters of this world only for the world to turn him into a monster it had to extinguish, it’s even worse.

For today’s #BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about your black son. What are your fears? Will he prevail in the life you prayed for him? Strip down the stereotypes, the suspicions and unease projected onto his skin. Show the world the wide-eyed, soft-skinned, bubble-blowing baby boy you first held in your arms.

—Nortina

#BlaPoWriMo: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot (poem)

Raise your hands above your head.
Pray; he doesn’t see your wallet,
he doesn’t mistake it for a gun,
he doesn’t pull the trigger five times
and five more when you turn to run.

—Nortina

This very short poem is in response to today’s Black Poetry Writing Month prompt: Write a poem for the Activist. Bonus points were for a sonnet, but . . . I’ve never quite conformed to the traditional way of writing poetry. 😉

Don’t forget to follow @BlaPoWriMo on Twitter! You can find the live feed in the sidebar!

(Featured image credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Activist

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

—Claude McKay, from Harlem Shadows (1922)

 

Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” was written amidst violent race riots in the summer of 1919 which included 28 public lynches. McKay famously used the sonnet form to speak against racism and call his community to action, to fight back.

The beauty of “If We Must Die” is that it’s universal. Even without knowing the history behind it, anyone facing oppression can identify with the powerful message within its lines. It’s even said that Winston Churchill read the poem in the House of Commons during World War II and that many British soldiers carried copies of the poem on their person.

Almost a century later, McKay’s poem still speaks to a generation fighting for their lives. Last year saw a rise in a new kind of civil rights activism, the Black Lives Matter Movement, in the aftermath of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and so many other unarmed brothers and sisters, unjustly slain, killed by law enforcement under questionable circumstances, seemingly with no remorse.

Stephen Lam / Reuters
Stephen Lam / Reuters

Screams for justice rose above the flames consuming cities like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. While the majority of protests were peaceful, many turned violent, but all were met with stiff police response in full-on riot gear.

Demonstrators put on die-ins in large shopping malls and on the sides of highways, saying, if they must die, they will not leave this earth until the world knows and respects that Black lives still exist and matter equal to every one else.

Today’s optional prompt for #BlaPoWriMo is to write a poem (bonus points if it’s a sonnet) that condemns racism. Write a poem for the contemporary activist who refuses to be picked off by an establishment that views her race as expendable. Write a poem for a people who will not be made victims anymore.

—Nortina

To Protect and Serve?

The dense fog sinks to the ground and conceals the officer’s body underneath a blanket, gray as his skin.

View of the gun sharpens amongst blurred surroundings as it pierces the thick air, firing eight rounds toward the man fleeing for the abandoned rail car on the other side of the tracks, praying the rusted metal will block the approaching bullets.

One final shot strikes underneath his left shoulder blade. I crumple to the ground as he crumples, face first, heart bleeding onto the gravel.

“I said, hands behind your back!”

Does he not realize we’ve stopped breathing?

word count: 98

—Nortina


This is dedicated to Walter L. Scott, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and all of my fathers, brothers, and sons who have lost their lives to men sworn to “protect and serve.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly challenge where you must write a story in 100 words or less using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to ready other stories and add your own.

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© Jennifer Pendergast

 

No Holds Barred Poetry Writing Challenge: Day 12

Our values are misguided,
corrupted.
A life is meaningless
against a car,
a phone, a pair of shoes.
A seventeen-year-old boy
faces seventeen years for
strong-arm robbery.
His loot: a pack of cigarettes,
deodorant, a toothbrush—
the victim still breathing.
Seventeen years under the parenting
of murderers, rapists,
bigoted prison guards—
if not mistaken for a
murderer, rapist
by bigoted police officers
with loaded guns and a profile
before his trial.

—Nortina