#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

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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 . . . ? #WalterScott

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

White Jesus

This is what happens when you live in an apartment full of potheads. Empty refrigerator. Nothing but Ramen noodle packs and  a half-empty Ziploc bag of stale Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the cabinets. Two cold slices of the large pepperoni pizza you unknowingly paid for while you were in the shower waiting for you on the kitchen table.

I sigh, retrieve my bank card from the pizza box and put it in my pocket. I put the two slices of pizza on the last paper plate, and place it in the microwave, making sure to slam the door loud enough for Levon and Phillip to hear from the living room.

Neither stir. They’re probably too high to function. All they do is smoke, drink, eat, and watch MSNBC all day. It’s a wonder the bills even get paid. I know Phillip works, but Levon only leaves the apartment to buy weed and cigarillos. He needs to be more careful. With that ankle bracelet on, the cops know where he is every second of the day. If they were to ever catch him at his dealer’s house, mid-transaction, that’s more jail time.

I don’t know why I stay. Levon and I broke up months ago and I don’t see us getting back together anytime soon. It was a mutual separation. Phillip had walked in on me as I was getting out of the shower. He didn’t bother to look away, and I didn’t bother to cover up. Levon immediately accused us of messing around and left the apartment for a week. When he finally returned, I didn’t ask where he went. We made up and that was it, until his ex, Onisha, showed up at the apartment a month later, saying she was pregnant and Levon was the father. She had been waiting for it. Counting down the days, until I finally fucked up and forced Levon to crawl into her bed for a few minutes of comfort only to end up with eighteen years of drama, and a son he despised because of who his mother was.

We argued for weeks. Then, sick of the fighting, sick of the pain, I joined Levon and Phillip on the couch in the living room and hit the blunt. It was the first and last time I ever smoked with them. They laughed at me when I blew instead of inhaled. That’s when I took a second puff, blew my high into Levon’s mouth and kissed him.

“I love you, but we’re done,” I said.

“Aight” was his only response.

I still pay his portion of the rent, and to show his gratitude he lets me stay in his bedroom while he sleeps on the couch. I still plan to move out. Eventually, I’ll have the courage to tell him to grow the fuck up. He’s 25 years old. But until I find that permanent job with benefits and get my own place, it looks like I’m stuck wasting my paychecks from BB&T on a grocery bill every week and sweeping roaches off the kitchen floor.

I take my pizza out of the microwave and sit in the armchair across from Phillip and Levon in the living room.

“You’re welcome,” Phillip says with a wink.

I pucker my lips and blow him a sarcastic kiss. Levon doesn’t notice. His head hangs awkwardly over his chest as he tries to focus on the images on the television screen.

“White Jesus, what you think of these marches they havin’ for France?” Levon says to Phillip. That’s his nickname—White Jesus. He’s black, but very light skin—almost the color of a manila folder. He has long, brown hair that goes just past his shoulders, though he usually wears his hair in cornrows. Whenever he gets high, he always has some philosophical, proverbial, life-changing shit to say about the world we live in.

“I mean, it’s good. But on some real shit, I think it’s crazy that these white people can offend people for a living, get shot up, and the whole world stands up for them, but when a nigga gets choked to death on camera for selling some fuckin’ cigarettes, we can’t even hold a simple protest without the cops rollin’ up on us in full-on riot gear threatening to shoot at us with tear gas and rubber bullets. Look at that video.” He points to the news coverage of the various rallies in London, New York, and other places around the world. “Not a damn cop in sight.”

“That’s because black people don’t know how to act. Yea, we have good intentions, but as soon as the sun goes down, we’re setting liquor stores on fire and flipping cop cars!” I blurt out.

Phillip holds out his joint towards me and lowers his head to look at me over the rim of his glasses. “First of all, no sane nigga would ever set a liquor store on fire.”

“Ha!” Levon shouts.

I shrug my shoulders.

“Second of all, who are you? Uncle Sam’s secretary? Don’t let them white folks at your job fool you.”

“No one’s fooling me.”

“Lemme tell you somethin’,” Phillip says. He takes another hit of the blunt. “Every demonstration group is always gon have that small group of people who just don’t get it. Them the ones who take shit into they own hands and act like nobody taught them shit.” He pauses and passes the blunt to Levon. “Look here,” he says pointing to the TV. A black, red, and yellow flag is displayed in the upper right corner of the screen next to the news anchor’s head. “They having a anti-Islam rally in Germany. Why? Because a couple terrorists who happen to be Muslim shoot up a newspaper? Everybody else in the world standing against terrorism, and these mothafuckas standing against a religion. A whole fuckin’ religion! Because in they twisted, German heads, they think a billion people are evil just because of a few terrorists. Now what if we said all Germans are Nazis because of Hitler? It’s the same thing.”

“I get what you’re saying,” I say, nodding my head. I have to chuckle to myself. He’s probably been smoking all day, his head miles above the clouds.

“Aye, there’s really a billion Muslims in the world?” Levon asks, nudging Phillip’s arm.

“Shit if I know. But look, I used to fuck a A-rab girl,” Phillip starts.

“It’s pronounced Arab,” I correct him.

“Whatever. Anyway, them niggas ain’t terrorists. They just tryna get money and survive in this white man’s world like us.”

“Phil, you should be on a talk show or some shit,” Levon says.

“Y’all my talk show right here,” Phillip says. He takes the blunt from Levon and passes it to me. I shake my head. “Girl, why you so uptight? C’mon. Just one hit.” He smirks at me.

“They don’t hold random drug tests at your job, do they?” Levon asks.

“No, but I got more important shit to do.” I stand up and take a bite of my pizza. “Well, thanks for the enlightenment, guys, but I don’t need a contact buzz, so I think I’ll eat my pizza in my room.”

“You mean my room?” Levon says. “You want me to join you?”

Phillip takes two puffs on the blunt and passes it to Levon to finish it off.

On my way out of the living room, I stop at the doorway and turn to Levon. “I better not see that roach on the floor tomorrow.”

They both snicker. “I can’t make no promises, babe,” Levon says. I don’t bother to acknowledge the unsolicited term of endearment.

I turn to go to my room. At the end of the hall, I can hear the volume of the television rise. MSNBC news is reporting that the girlfriend of one of the shooters may have fled to Syria.

“They been talkin’ ’bout France for the past hour, and that massacre that just happened in Nigeria gets one sentence on the bottom line. Just like Rwanda in the 90s. People only pay attention when white people die,” Phillip is saying.

“Amen, White Jesus,” I hear Levon say. I close the door.