#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Too Close

We’re into Week 2 of Black Poetry Writing Month, and this week is all about the Harlem Renaissance!

For today’s Throwback Thursday poem, I’m taking you back to BlaPoWriMo’s inaugural year. This poem, originally published two years ago today, was inspired by Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen’s poem, “Incident,” and it described a similar incident in which I was made aware of my [intimidating…militant…criminal?] blackness…

Photo by @theoptimistdreamer from nappy.co

Too Close

December’s wind gusts
into winter. She clutches
Michael Kors handbag,

pale knuckles pressing
through white skin. She peeks over
her right shoulder, spins

around. You live here?
This your apartment?
she cries.
Yes. I point. Upstairs.

Purse held tightly to
her side, she lets me pass—
Maybe I followed

too close.

—Nortina

#BlaPoWriMo: Too Close (poem)

December’s wind gusts
into winter. She clutches
Michael Kors handbag,

pale knuckles pressing
through white skin. She peeks over
her right shoulder, spins

around. You live here?
This your apartment?
she cries.
Yes. I point. Upstairs.

Purse held tightly to
her side, she lets me pass—
Maybe I followed

too close.

—Nortina


While I’m bummed my Panthers lost the Super Bowl, I still wanted to share my “incident” poem from yesterday’s BlaPoWriMo prompt. This actually happened to me back in college while I was walking home from the bus stop. I spent the rest of that afternoon wondering if I looked so scary that my neighbor (whom I’m sure had seen me before) would suspect me of potentially purse snatching. Was my afro too big that day? My jeans to loose? The music from my ear buds too loud? My face too mean?

If anyone else wants to join in, this challenge isn’t just for me! Check out my February is Black Poetry Writing Month post! I’ve pinged all the prompts to that page. You can write to the prompt, or submit your own poem. Just don’t forget to tag it BlaPoWriMo so I can find you! 🙂

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem About an Incident

Incident
For Eric Warlrond

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and call me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

—Countee Cullen, from Color (1925)

Imagine being an eight year old child, possibly on vacation with family, eager to explore the city of Baltimore and its history, its culture. Imagine smiling at passersby, spreading good cheer because you’re all too happy to be in such a beautiful place where the sun is bright, the breeze is light, and the streets are filled with friendly people.

Then a complete stranger, a child as innocent and as naïve as you, sneers at you and calls you a nigger. That one word, that one incident, derails your trip completely. And while you’ll probably never see this person again, his face, his lips moving in slow motion as he pronounces the word will forever be instilled in your mind. You’ll carry it with you. All the loves in your life won’t be able to change it. You’ll look in the mirror, and despite loved-one’s praises of a smart, talented, charming individual, your reflection will only show the thing that person saw in the streets of Baltimore that day. The nigger.

President Obama Uses N-Word in Podcast
President Barack Obama used the n-word to make a point about the reality of racism in America during an interview released Monday, June 22, 2015 with comedian Marc Maron. Obama weighed in on the national debate on race relations and gun control that has been reignited after the Charleston shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Even today, the N word is still a controversial subject of debate. While the black community has taken the word, redefined it, changed the spelling, and made it their own, the sting still exists when spat from a white person’s mouth. We can say that everyone should be able to use it now, that it doesn’t have the same racist, hateful meaning as it did when Countee Cullen’s poem was written, but there’s still that underlying fear that it could be used to degrade and dehumanize African Americans.

If you were angry enough, if you really wanted to hurt me, break me down, and you knew of one word that was sure to do it, would you use it? These are the questions we secretly want to ask our white friends who freely use it around us because it’s ‘cool,’ because we say it to each other all the time, so what’s the difference if they say it too? Hundreds of years of systematic racism is the difference. Because hearing you say it conjures up historically being viewed as an ‘other,’ less than human.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about an incident where someone called you a racial slur or said something degrading. How did you react? With anger? Fear? Shock? How did it haunt you after it had passed. Does it haunt you still?

—Nortina