Cool

He silently watched the car shrink away, eaten up by the distance. Strange. Although his lips were unmoving, he had so much he wanted to say.

Cool was the only word he could utter after the car disappeared over the hill leading to the main highway.

“Cool.”

The weather was cool. First day of spring but snow in the forecast. Fat, fluffy snowflakes fell from the sky earlier that morning. It reminded him of thin strips of white confetti, like the dry stuff they’d sprinkle over a stage for a winter-themed play.

His shirt was cool. Short-sleeve—he shivered when the wind blew. Cotton. Custom made. Black canvas. “Wakanda Forever” in bold white text stretched across his chest. He wore it twice to see the movie Black Panther. Once alone, and again with his son.

The Lexis was cool. One he’d always dreamed of owning. But this one carried his son in the backseat. Away to his mother’s house, across town, across the train tracks, across the invisible Mason-Dixon line that marked his skin— though she sees no color, so she said.

His son’s Spider-Man sneakers were cool. They lit up when he walked. All the kids in school were jealous, so much that one tried to steal them off his feet during recess behind the teacher’s back, then cried foul play when the bottom of the shoe swiftly met his face.

Getting suspended from school for fighting was cool, because that was what all the other boys in the neighborhood did. They kept tally—who won, who was the punk.

But it wasn’t cool.

Not cool. He shook his head, thinking of his ex’s parting words. “We don’t solve our problems with violence. I left him with you because I thought you could teach our son how to be black.”

How to be black, he thought. What does that even mean?

—Nortina


Monday Muse Writing Prompt challenges you to use the opening line and provided photo to create a story in just 20 minutes. Click here for more details.

Also check out Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool,” which “subconsciously” inspired this story.

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Song from the Front Yard

A Song in the Front Yard

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

—Gwendolyn Brooks, from Selected Poems (1963)

 

We end our Gwendolyn Brooks weekend with “A Song in the Front Yard.” Following the theme of the last two days, the speaker of this poem, a sheltered child, sees what she thinks is greener grass on the other side and wants to go there. The “back yard” or the “alley” could represent the other side of the train tracks, the rougher side of town, the bad neighborhood. She’s curious; she sees the children there having more fun, doing what they want, but her mother keeps her in the “front yard” where she’s protected and not influenced by those no good kids with no home training—because either their parents don’t care, are as young as they are, or just aren’t around, leaving the task of raising the children to the grandparents—who have no future but prison (George) or prostitution (Johnnie Mae).

I love this poem because it embraces the innocent child’s voice so effortlessly. Children are notorious for wanting the very things their parent forbid them from having. “But all the other kids are doing it,” I can hear her whine, “and Johnnie Mae looks so pretty.” It’s only natural that they look at other children doing something they’re not allowed to do and automatically think that it’s cool. “Why not?” they cry, “it doesn’t look so bad.”

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Brooks balances out the child’s “song” with the inclusion of the mother’s rational thinking. With age, she’s old enough to understand. She sees the path the other children are running toward, and she wants to save her own child from that. This mother reminds me so much of my own, who wouldn’t let us go to certain parks by ourselves, or play with certain kids in our neighborhood, or stay outside past the time the streetlights came one. At the time, I just thought she was being overprotective and too strict.

Years later, those kids I wanted so desperately to play with don’t have careers; they aren’t working, or if they are, they’re working low-wage jobs because they didn’t go to college. Their priorities are messed up because they live beyond their means. Most of those boys are in jail, and those girls have kids of their own with deadbeat dads, cursed to follow the same fate as their parents. Maybe they’re happy with the paths they chose, but boy, mama sure does know best.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a song from the front yard. What does the child see that she just has to have? What makes it dangerous? Who is the voice of reason that saves her from a life of poor decisions and a permanent residence in the unkempt “back yard”?

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Cool Kids

We Real Cool

THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

—Gwendolyn Brooks, from The Bean Eaters (1960)

Continuing with our Gwendolyn Brooks inspiring weekend, we’re looking at her shortest and most popular poem, “We Real Cool.” With very few words, Brooks illustrates an explicit scene in a pool hall where seven presumed young men hangout, playing hooky and “acting grown.”

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There are many interpretations for this poem; it could about youth rebellion, the speaker’s condemnation and disapproval of the young men’s actions, etc. However, I’d like to think these “pool players” are establishing their identities in an unfriendly world. The repetition of “We” at the end of each line is a declaration that we are here, and we will not be ignored. I don’t see the statement “We real cool” as sarcastic but as a realization that not conforming to society’s expectation for them is ideal; it makes them authentic, “cool.” Even the last line has a positive tone, similar to the YOLO phrase kids chant today. You only live once, so make the best of it and do what makes you happy with no apologies.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the cool kids. Why is it important for us to listen to them? Using Brooks’ poem as inspiration, paint a scene in very few words that illustrates an group of kids making their mark on the world and establishing their individuality.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem about a “Beverly Hills, Chicago”

Beverly Hills, Chicago

“and the people live till they have white hair”
—E.M. Price

The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.

That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.

When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the cheapest lemons that are sold,

While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow. . . . Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.

Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers. . . .

Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.

It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.

We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.

—Gwendolyn Brooks, from Selected Poems (1963)

 

Let’s kick off a Gwendolyn Brooks themed weekend; three days of Gwendolyn Brooks inspired poetry writing. Today we start with “Beverly Hills, Chicago.”

When I was younger, my family used to ride through ritzy neighborhoods in my hometown to look at the big two and three-story houses with their wide and spacious yards and greener and green grass. It was almost a game to us. My brothers and I would call dibs on the houses we liked best.

“Oh, look at the Christmas decorations on that house! That’s my house!”

“I want the house with the patio!”

“That house with the huge front windows is mine!”

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As in Brooks’ poem, no one in the car was angry or hated the homeowners. While we didn’t live in the projects, crammed in a two bedroom apartment, surviving paycheck to paycheck, we were still a little jealous of what these homeowners had. Our average-sized house in a nice, quiet neighborhood was comfortable, but it wasn’t Grandover! It wasn’t luxury. Shoot, I bet even their dogs had mini mansion doghouses while ours lived in a patchy backyard behind a weak fence.

It was only natural to want a little more.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about a Beverly Hills in your hometown. Do you remember a neighborhood that you often took fieldtrips to as a kid just to daydream about living in one of the houses? What feelings swept over you as you peered through the glass windows in awe?

Nortina

 

Black History Month: Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. I first began reading her poetry during a trying time in my life when I was depressed and even suicidal. I had to make a difficult decision, and I had a hard time forgiving myself and others around me who were involved. Then one day, I read this poem:

 

The Mother

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

 

Gwendolyn was an amazing poet. She wrote about people and places. She wrote about the black experience and made it relevant to everyone. She provided a voice for the black working and middle class. She provided a voice for me.

When you make a mistake and subsequently hate yourself for it, you have a hard time moving forward. Coping with such a painful decision can be especially difficult when the people involved act as if it never happened and expect you to do the same. This poem helped me deal with my pain, guilt, hatred, (a multitude of emotions), through writing. Although I can’t say that I am completely healed, I am in a better place than I was three years ago.

Poetry is so therapeutic. Whatever meaning the poet had in mind when writing a poem, that meaning can change as the poem speaks to different people of different backgrounds. “The Mother” inspired me to write several poems about my experience, even a short story that I am in the midst of reworking. It feels so good to let my heart pour out on the page, and even if I never share my writing on the subject of abortion with anyone else, I am happy that I could release that built up emotion because if I had held onto it for a little while longer, it would have killed me.

Thank you Gwendolyn Brooks, and happy Black History Month.

 

For more on Gwendolyn Brooks, visit here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/gwendolyn-brooks