BlaPoWriMo: Bad All by Herself

Girl,
Ain’t nothin’ on yo head ugly.
Don’t you know nappy the new Black?

And you Black
Which makes you better.

Smooth like cocoa butter on yo elbows and knees
Quenching like shea butter saturatin’ them kinks.

Girl,
You glowin’
And I ain’t done a thing.

—Nortina


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

Exploited

It was enough just to hold her. The curve of her hips fit perfectly in my lap. We lay like spoons. The sun rose, filled the bedroom with bright light, and we didn’t move. It skated across the wall behind my headboard, and we barely flinched. It turned a fleshy peach and sank below the window, and we were still cocooned in the sheets, naked underneath, the heat radiating from our deep brown skin to keep us warm.

It was enough just to forage my fingers through her hair, soft like cotton balls, the tickling fur of dandelion seeds. A lock coiled around my finger, tightened, like a tiny snake suffocating its prey, and I made the mistake of wanting more. To think that we weren’t one whole, satisfied this day and forever, before I opened my mouth and spoke. To assume that asking her to do something so simple as to straighten her hair wouldn’t break her heart, wouldn’t consume her with images of my hating her, trying to scrub away her dark skin, seething at the natural bush that grew from her crown.

“I get that perms have chemicals. They can damage your hair. But a flat iron?”

“Heat damage.”

I didn’t understand what that meant. Like heat stroke? Like dehydration? “I just want to be able to run my fingers through your hair, pull it when we . . . you know.”

“That’s such a man’s answer. Exploit my body for your sexual thrills.”

“That’s not what I meant. Just forget it.”

But she couldn’t forget it. She propped herself up on her elbows, took the other half of the covers, leaving me exposed, and wrapped them around her, concealing every inch of her body from the shoulders down. It was the first time she’d been out of my arms in eighteen hours, and it felt like carving away my own skin.

“Don’t go,” I pleaded. “I’m sorry.”

“I have to feed my dog anyway.” But we both knew Atticus lived in the yard, and if he didn’t have food in his bowl, he found it in a squirrel, or a rabbit, or the neighbor’s cat.

No, she couldn’t stand to be by my side anymore, let the self-hatred seep into her pores. She wanted to share all of her, all that she was, with me, but all that was on my mind was what if she looked a little more like her, a little more like them.

I waited a few days to call her, to let her anger recede, but as the phone rang and rang with no answer, the echo of her voice overcame me. Exploit my body. Exploit my body. What if another man had? I only perpetuated the cycle.

—Nortina

Hair Crisis

Fluff up the frizz,
pull down the coils—
I’m torn.
The song tells me
I am not my hair,
but my reflection glares
back, demanding an
explanation—
Why do I think this
…Lion’s Mane…
is appropriate for
the corporate office;
for walking on sidewalks
behind white women
clutching expensive purses;
for PTA meetings about
strict dress codes—bans
against colors red, blue,
bandannas in back pockets,
tank tops whose namesake
promotes domestic violence,
“distracting” hairstyles.
My afro enters the room
before I do; everyone
turns, stares, mouths agape,
the atmosphere freezes;
I float in limbo while
they decide what to call
my hair—
It’s like a hat,
like a firework,
an overgrown bush,
chop it down with shears
with weed whackers,
it’s unkempt, nappy.
It is defiant toward gravity,
stiff under patting hands
molding it into a shape
more tolerable. It is
the fear of militant Negros
fist fighting the Klansmen
buried in their backyards.
It is the severed limbs
of my enslaved ancestors
rising from my scalp,
reaching up, out, catching
freedom in the wind, in
low hanging branches, in
lost Bobby pins that
cannot tame my
ROAR!

—Nortina


wp-1460120669780.jpgIt’s been a while since I’ve written a poem other than a haiku. Since April is NaPoWriMo, I thought I’d work off the rust, draw some inspiration from BlaPoWriMo  (and the almost hair identity crisis I had standing in front of the mirror this morning before work), and write this poem.

Natural Business

“Oh, your hair is different,”
The hiring manager says as she studies
My driver’s license,
Searching for a resemblance
Between the tiny, blurred, scratched,
Photograph taken five years ago
In her hand and the woman
Who sits before her.

And as much as I want to,
I don’t leap across the table,
Wrap my hands around the throat of this
Blond, straight haired woman,
Who can effortlessly run
Her fingers through her silky tresses
Without snagging a single-strand knot,
And scream, “No, bitch,
My hair doesn’t look like that
In the morning!”

I restrain myself,
Sit erect, legs crossed, smile and nod.
After years of working odd jobs in
Transportation and fast food,
Matting down a twist-out
I spent hours perfecting the night before
Underneath a sweaty, cotton cap,
I finally get called for a job that can
Kickstart my career
In creative advertisement,
And the first question
My potential boss asks
Is about my hair.

And although my hair
In the driver’s license photo
Barely came to my chin,
Was riddled with split ends,
Thinned at the crown from
The strong alkali-based cream
I applied every six weeks
To tame rough, nappy new-growth,
Had a scalp that grew more
Scabs than hair follicles
From the many times I waited by the sink
For my beautician to finish gossiping
With her other clients
About who got who pregnant
To come put out the burning
Flame atop my head,
It was still better because
It was straight.

I wonder if my “different” hair
Would cost me this job.
If “be yourself”
Was just something you told
Bullied children and
Members of the LGBT community.
Workroom discrimination
Only meant something if
You looked like the white
Women you worked alongside
Because since the day scientists
Trespassed onto African savannahs and
Measured the bigger
Breasts, buttocks, and labia,
Of the dark, “jezebel” woman,
They determined that fair
Skin and hair were the
Definitions of beauty and purity,
Never to be defiled.
So my hair must be
Pulled, ripped, burned to fit
A nonexistent, unattainable,
European standard of beauty
Until I become a pinned up, painted on
Android. Not white, not black, just there
But acceptable because of my hair.
Straight, combed back,
Uniform in Stepford fashion.

From an early age,
Young girls and young boys
Are indoctrinated to choose
Conformity over health.
Man up!
Lose weight!
Comb your hair!

It doesn’t matter that my hair
Is softer than cotton,
Isn’t ruined when wet,
Has grown past my bra strap,
Doesn’t require, heat
Or flammable aerosols
To hold a spiral curl,
Can reach towards the sky or
Hang over my shoulders,
Be pinned up into a bun or
Braided down my back,
Twisted to resemble locs or
Curled to frame my face,
Picked out into an afro or
Flat ironed bone-straight.
If it doesn’t comply with the unwritten
Clause in the dress code that says:
No Ethnic Hair!
I won’t be hired.
I’ll just look for a job where
Ethnicity is required.

That face you make when a co-worker asks you something stupid about your hair...
“No, Freddy, for the twentieth time, this is NOT a wig!”

—Nortina

For those of you who do not understand the meaning of this poem, natural, African textured hair has a  stigma against it of being unprofessional due to its coarse, kinky nature. I attack that notion with “Natural Business.” Any feedback is of course welcome.

No Holds Barred Poetry Writing Challenge: Day 20

Natural Hair Haiku

Winter’s ice lowers
branch—disappears amongst the
kinks atop my head.

Nortina

Writer’s Block Is a B….

I’m sure all of you are wondering why you haven’t seen a new creative piece from me in months (over three months if we’re talking about poetry). It’s quite simple, actually . . .

I HAVE WRITER’S BLOCK.

And not just any writer’s block, but a fatally chronic writer’s block (is that a good diagnosis?). The sad think about it is that this particular writer’s block only seems to be affecting my creative side. I can still mange to force a well-written blog post onto the page (by the way, for all you fashionistas, & natural hair lovers, check out my articles on 4cHairChick here and here), but the moment I sit down to write a story, all that emerges is gibberish that looks like it’s written by a five-year-old! What’s worse is that I’ve had several good story plotlines floating around in my head for months! Why can’t I write them down. At least with poetry I have a reason for my writer’s block: NOTHING. Not a single idea for a poem has come to mind in months! Maybe I should get my Taylor Swift on & date someone for a couple months & have our messy breakup inspire a fiery poem.

I am working diligently to overcome this latest spell of writer’s block. I’ve been reading lots of literary magazines (because I’m sure their rejection of my work is what has caused this), and I also plan to read Gone Girl  this weekend, so nobody tell me about the movie!

By the way, as far as NaNoWriMo goes, you can guess that I failed yet again. At least I got the first chapter written. I’ll post that soon so you’ll have something to read from me this month, and who knows, November isn’t over yet. Maybe I’ll finish with a 20,000 or 30,000 word novella that will cure my chronic writer’s block.

Conversation With A Womanist

WOMANIST. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.

—Alice Walker, from “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose” (1983)

 

She has already forgotten his name before the bell rings. He can feel it and is eager to move to the next table, the next woman, a white woman with straight blonde hair who doesn’t ask a lot of questions. She looks to be in her mid-thirties, possibly divorced, without a man for a year. That is why he came to speed dating. To find a desperate woman, not one who speaks to confuse him.

The bell rings.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Yea, you too,” he mumbles. He jumps from from his seat, nearly toppling over the chair. He rushes to the next table, pushes the man in front of him from his chair, and snatches the white woman’s hand to kiss it. She grins from ear to ear. Jackpot.

The next man sits down. He is dark skin. His hair is cut short. He has a chiseled face and a slight five o’ clock shadow. “Hello, beautiful,” he says with a smile. “And what’s your name?”

“Africa,” she says.

“Beautiful. I don’t even have to ask where it comes from.”

“I was named after my mother,” she says.

“Your mom’s name is Africa?”

“My mom’s name is Renee. My mother’s name is Africa,” she says plainly.

He frowns. “I’m sorry I don’t—”

“Do you like my hair?” she asks. She fluffs her afro and shakes her head. It spreads the width of the Mona Lisa replica painting on the wall behind her.

“Uh,” he hesitates. “Yes, I do.”

“You like natural hair?”

“I love natural hair . . . as long as it’s neat,” he says.

She pauses from fluffing her hair. “Neat?” she asks.

“Yea, you know . . .” He tries to hint at something unknown to her.

“No I don’t know. What constitutes neat natural hair?”

“Like yours. You know, it’s not all over the place. It looks soft. It’s not nappy.” He coughs to clear his throat.

She takes a sip from the glass of white wine in front of her. She returns the glass to the table and cocks her head to the side. “No natural hair is nappy. We comb our hair.”

“Well, some females with natural—”

Females?” She raises her eyebrows.

“Yes?” He draws out the word, unsure of where the conversation is headed.

“You speak of us as if you’re a scientist observing us in a lab. ‘The female with natural hair.’ Interesting.”

“Well what do you prefer?” He is getting frustrated.

“I am a human being. I am a woman. And my name is Africa.”

“Alright human woman named Africa,” he jokes.

She doesn’t smile. “Do you listen to music?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, relieved for the subject change.

“What kind?”

“Mostly rap.”

“Hip-hop? So you support their objectification of women?”

“I, uh—”

“The panning of the camera over their large breasts and derriere. Encouraging them to rupture the temple of their bodies so that the rapper can get a ‘quick nut.’ Forcing them to entertain him by stripping completely naked. It alludes back to slave auctions, don’t you think?”

The bell rings. He jumps from his seat, knocking over the chair.

“It was nice talking to you,” she says with a smile.

“Hello, beautiful. And what’s your name?” he asks the white woman at the next table.

 

Nortina

Featured photo courtesy of essientv.com