Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the At-Risk Youth

“Teach Us to Number Our Days”

In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.

Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams

he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.

And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.

August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.

—Rita Dove, from Yellow House on the Corner (1980)

 

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” is strikingly visual. The original Bible verse (Psalm 90:12), from which the title is taken, is a prayer from Moses that the children of Israel always stay faithful and true servants God’s and gain His wisdom, as He is everlasting while they are but blades of grass. Dove’s poem takes on a slightly different tone. Life is tragically short in this low-income, urban neighborhood (the “hood,” “projects,” or “ghetto”), where crime and death is rampant, the “funeral” has become a business, and emotionless cops patrol the streets prepared to shoot anyone who gets out of line. The lone ray of hope is the image of a boy who dreams of making it out (“A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon/crossed by TV antennae dreams/he has swallowed a blue bean.”), a narrative used often in hip hop culture. The image of the boy playing tic-tac-toe on the moon could allude to the televised broadcasting of the moon landing and the common childhood dream to become an astronaut. When he swallows the “blue bean,” it represents his desire to escape, also alluding to the fairytale “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Unfortunately, his route is snapped off by a cop who holds all the cards (“beans”), reminding him that soon he will suffer the same fate as the rest of this neighborhood’s residents: death or prison.

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It’s a heartbreaking depiction of a life that hasn’t much changed since the time this poem was written. Unfortunately, the average American has a nasty habit of blaming these people for their current circumstances. They call them lazy, criminals, drug addicts, etc. when they’re just as much victims of the system as slaves or blacks living in the Jim Crow South. This is the result of housing discrimination, job discrimination, the elimination of government funded at-risk programs, the stigma against raising the minimum wage and the assumption that a certain “type” of person only works these jobs and thus doesn’t deserve a livable wage, the misguided belief that “because I pulled myself up by the bootstraps with no help, you should too” when you didn’t grow up in this kind of environment, elected officials disconnected from a community and opting to ignore its existence entirely instead of taking the time to understand and fix its problems.

When did we become so heartless? This country was built on Christian principles. Did we forget that the early Christian church gave to those in need? Knowing this makes the title of this poem all the more ironic. Maybe the “Us” is actually referring to the self-righteous reader. Maybe Dove is asking the American “Christian” to remember Psalm 90, to seek God’s wisdom and fear His wrath because one day, they’ll have to face judgment for their actions . . . or lack thereof…

Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:45; NIV)

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the young child trapped in the “hood.” Illustrate his tragic environment with striking images. Why is he so often ignored or misrepresented? Be that single person who shows him sympathy. Give him hope that there is a way to “get out” other than in a body bag or a prison cell.

 

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#BlaPoWriMo: Together We . . . (poem)

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


Written for BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for your community.

#BlaPoWriMo: Boycott the Dark Girl (poem)

Boycott the dark girl!

Don’t tell them about race; Middle America
doesn’t want to face your afros and wide nose,
your full lips and round hips.

Boycott the dark girl!

Rip open your blouse, measure the humpback
on which a nation’s edifices are housed,
count the scars from raw cowhide
whipped in formation of a chokecherry plantation.

Boycott the dark girl!

Mend your heartstrings across the violin bridge,
play an empowering song with the bow of your fist.
Splash shades of brown through the stadium field—
a prism of acceptance, their politics must yield.

Boycott the dark girl!

A call for peace, an end to violence
is an attack, they say.
You were beaten, raped,
your genitals dissected and put on display.

Dance on the boycott, dark girl;

Hatred can’t make them turn you away.
Your purple skin is imperial; reclaim your domain
as you slay on the stage in Black Panther berets.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Mask Wearer

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream other-wise,
We wear the mask!

—Paul Laurence Dunbar, from Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896)

 

April, 2015– After the questionable death of Freddie Grey, resulting from a spinal cord injury he obtained while in police custody that left him in a coma for seven days, the city of Baltimore erupted into flames in violent protest.

A blond coworker of mine, one who I must describe as sadly ignorant based the many questions she has asked me about past and current racial issues in this country, wants to know what caused the riots in Baltimore.

So I tell her.

People are angry (notice, I don’t say black people) at yet another mysterious death of a black man at the hands of police.

Her reaction:

“Oh my god! Get over it! They’re making it bigger than what it is. It’s not that serious. Cops aren’t racist! Everything’s not racist! They’re just doing their job!”

And while my palm is itching to slap her up and down this office, because despite what she thinks, it is in fact about race; because if the past two years have proven anything, it’s that minorities, specifically BLACK MEN, are more likely to become victims of police brutality; because a black man is more likely to get shot six times in the back for a busted taillight; because a black kid who smokes weed is labeled a thug while a white kid who shoots up a church is “troubled”; because a black grandmother had her face beat in on the side of a highway; because at ten years old, I’d come to accept the fact that cops are trigger happy around black men.

Instead, I put on the biggest minstrel act I can muster.

“You’re right! Everything’s not racist. We overreact to everything. It’s silly, really. You remember when Atlanta Hawks GM basically called Luol Deng a sneaky African? Or when Giuliana Rancic said Zendaya’s faux locs smelled like marijuana? It wasn’t that serious. It was funny, right? I laughed. I thought it was funny. Ha-ha-ha!”

Zendaya-Coleman-Arrivals-87th-Annual-Academy-121_dQ8ebayx

Dunbar’s poem is very real to many African Americans. Too often we pick up the mask and put on a wide, “good Negro” grin because we don’t want to be called thugs, or “angry black people.” Even though we know that something’s not right, that this action by this person, this group of people, or this system was most definitely driven by racist and ethnocentric thinking, we keep quiet because we don’t want to offend the white people (even though we’re offended); we don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable (even though we’re uncomfortable); we don’t want them to think we’re calling them racist (even though if the shoe fits . . .)

This happens all too often. Black people get offended because of something blatantly racist, and then white people get offended by black people for being offended. Let’s take Beyoncé’s Superbowl 50 halftime performance for example. In her new song “Formation,” she embraces her blackness and marvels at black beauty.

My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma
I like my baby heir, with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils

Unfortunately, some people had a problem with her use of the word “negro.” Others didn’t like her indictment of police brutality in the “Formation” music video, in which officers in riot gear surrender and hold up their hands to a black boy wearing a hoodie and dancing. And some thought it was in poor taste that her dancers were dressed as Black Panthers. Beyoncé snatched off her mask. She took the Superbowl stage and made it her platform against systemic racism and injustice. She professed that she was proud to be black, that her black IS beautiful. Let’s put our fists in the air with her!

Beyoncé performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Beyoncé performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Yet, there is talk of boycotting?

*sigh*  (Gon, be a gud lil’ nigga. We mus’n’ offend massa.)

For today’s #BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem about a time when you had to wear a mask, when you had to swallow back feelings of oppression and put on a demoralizing “good negro” song and dance so as not to offend the ignorant. Will you take off your mask now? Will you force the world to see your tears, your pain, your bleeding heart?

#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

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 2 | Part 3

Susie: Black Inside and Out concluded

“Get your hands off of her like that, boy.” She took his shirt by the collar and yanked him back. He stumbled into his sister, stepping on her toe. She stood still, staring up at Gabbi, and pinched her face in, as if her eyes and mouth were being drawn toward the center at her nose. Then she dropped her jaw. A high-pitched scream escaped her mouth and she cried a tearless wail. The boy sprinted toward the park benches, leaving his sister behind.

Gabbi waved them both off with the flick of her wrist. She crouched in front of me, holding me by the shoulders. She checked my arms, the scrapes on my knees from being dragged out of the sandbox and across the park, the scratches on my face from the tree bark. She wiped the tears from my cheek with her thumb, pressed her fingers against my bruised nose. “Does that hurt, sweetheart?” I nodded and wrapped my arms around her neck, relieved that she had saved me from my ordeal, upset that I was left alone to face it in the first place.

She scooped me into her arms, wrapping my legs around her waist. “Where the hell is your mother, huh?” she whispered, kissing my earlobe.

“She left. She left. She left,” I sobbed, rubbing my sore nose into the crook of her neck.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

A woman with a baby strapped to her chest tapped Gabbi’s shoulder. She had the same lackluster orange hair as my tormentors, with flyaway strands defining gravity. Her hair stopped at her shoulders, the ends curled like the hook of a coat hanger. She held the boy’s hand at one side while the sister hid behind the other leg, poking her head around her thigh to look up at Gabbi.

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me why you’re not watching your kids run around terrorizing my baby.” She patted my cheek as I rested my head on her shoulder.

“Maybe she didn’t realize they were just playing?” She cradled the two children against her legs as if protecting them from Gabbi, as if she were the aggressor and not them. “He told me he was just playing cops. You see, he wants to be a police officer just like his dad.”

“Does his dad teach him that all little black girls are criminals? Look at my baby’s face!” She turned my chin, traced her fingers down the scratches on my cheeks, pointed to the peeled skin on the tip of my nose.

“You know how boys are. They play a little rough.” She shrugged her shoulders, tapped the top of his head. He pulled at the hem of her shirt, jutting his lower lip.

“That’s why you teach them early to keep their hands to themselves, and to recognize when the other kids are no longer having fun so they won’t grow up to be rapists and murderers.”

“How dare you question my parenting when you left your child here by herself in the first place!”

Gabbi ignored her accusation and pointed her finger directly in the boy’s face, nearly touching his nose. “What that boy needs is a good whopping.”

The woman pushed both of her children behind her and squared her shoulders. Gabbi was much taller than she. Her leather boots added almost three inches. Despite being shorter, the woman poked out her chest, rose as if being inflated, leveling her eyes with Gabbi. She curled her lips as she spoke. I could feel her hot breath on my ear. It felt like pins prickling my skin, digging into my eardrums. “How hypocritical of you,” she said. “You question me as a mother because my children were just playing and your daughter got hurt, then you turn around and suggest beating them!”

“It’s called discipline.”

“It’s called child abuse! I should call child services on you.”

I began to sink out of Gabbi’s grasp. I kicked my legs, frantic that I was slipping back into the possession of the police officer in training. I could feel his eyes piercing a hole through his mother’s body as he followed my descent, and as I drew closer to the ground, the tension created by our proximity felt as if all the air around me had been sucked away, and I was sealed inside a vacuum tight container.

Gabbi dipped down to pull me back up, sitting me snuggly on top of her forearm. For a moment, I was saved, but I wanted to escape from that park, be back at our apartment where kids chased one another with sticks, caterpillars clinging to the ends of them, threw hay in their hair, played ding dong ditch on the elderly neighbors, and raced back and forth across the street before the next car came.

I would sit on the front stoop outside of our apartment drawing stick figures with chalk. I would watch men in clothes that swallowed them stand outside the corner store, smoking cigars, sprinkling the ashes on the curb. They would sprint in the opposite direction when they saw flashing blue lights approach, heard the wailing sirens. They would hold their pants up to their waists, ankles smaller than my wrists, feet slipping out of untied shoes as they ran. I couldn’t understand why they ran if they did nothing wrong. Gabbi smoked too. She pretended that she didn’t, but I would see her sneak out back with the pack Marlboros stuffed in her sleeve, the cylinder shape of the lighter visible in her back pocket. I would peek through the blinds of the window and see the clouds of smoke billow from her mouth, dissipate in the air. When she returned, she would place two Altoid mints on her tongue and squirt her neck and arms with lavender scented perfume before scooping me into her arms. I’d asked her why she didn’t run like the others when the police drove through the complex. Her response didn’t resonate with me until now.

“If you look a certain way, no matter what you do, you’re always seen as the back guy. Cops don’t trust you, and you don’t trust the cops.”

“How you ‘posed to look?”

“Not like them.”

I watched the family over Gabbi’s shoulder as she carried me back to her van. The brother and sister crouched to the ground, plucking blades of grass while the mother bounced the baby against her chest, staring ahead of her, her eyes drooping, her mouth twisted downward, as if she were bored. I studied their features to find a difference. Their clothes were different. I stood out from the other children in the park with my denim overalls, but I suspected the difference Gabbi was referring to was more than just a preference of cotton over denim. I looked at their hair, all stringy and flat while my dark brown hair was styled into four large twists—one in the back, two on the sides, and one in the front—held together by pink and green barrettes. But the men in my neighborhood wore their hair in various styles—cornrows, long dreadlocks, close shaves—and the cops who chased them were equally as diverse in their hairstyle choices, ranging from bald to having hair as long as women.

Gabbi buckled me into my car seat, mumbling how she would kill Mom when she found her. She pulled the door closed, and I pressed my face against the window, my breath fogging the glass. What did I have in common with the smokers who ran from the police and what did the police have in common with the little boy who tried to arrest me? As we slowly pulled off, I saw him suddenly slap his arm, probably swatting at a bug. I looked down at my own arm, the same color as Gabbi’s, my parents, the running men in my neighborhood. A dark brown, the color of the markers I used to color in the self-portraits I drew on the inside flaps of coloring books, and loose receipt paper Gabbi emptied from her purse onto the kitchen table. Gabbi always told me to draw on white paper. I could see the colors better. Maybe that’s why the striking red imprint left on his arm was so clear, even from the moving van. The surrounding skin was the same color as the blank pages I drew on.

Does his dad teach him that all little black girls are criminals? I remembered Gabbi asking the woman. But I wasn’t black. Not like the night sky. Not like the television screen when it was turned off. Not like the ski masks bank robbers wore over their faces in the cartoons, and when they took the masks off, the bank robbers looked like the little boy and the police officers, not like me.

I crossed my legs my car seat as Gabbi cruised down the street searching for my father’s car, listening for his rattling speakers. The worst Mom could’ve done was leave me in the park, but she wasn’t a bad person. She’d asked someone to watch me until she returned. And she said that Daddy missed her. A bad person wouldn’t care enough about her to miss her, to want to spend time with her. And Gabbi saved me from a bully. Bad people were the bullies not the heroes.

The only bad people I knew chased innocent men down their own streets for no reason. They turned a blind eye while children they were assigned to watch over were being harassed. They forced their unsuspecting peers to play their rough games and laughed at them when they cried. They spewed threats from their mouths when asked to correct their foul behavior. And none of them looked like me.

© Nortina Simmons

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 3 | Part 1


Last week I had the worst case of writer’s block imaginable! Late as it is, here is the conclusion to chapter two, and chapter three will still be posted this Friday now that I’ve purged myself of all the distractions.

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 2 | Part 2

Susie: Black Inside and Out continued…

I wanted to get a glimpse of my dad, finally see his eyes. I would run home, compare them to my own in Gabbi’s vanity mirror. Both dark brown, pupils slightly dilated, gray trimming around the irises. But the windows were tinted, and Mom only cracked the passenger door open to slide in, as if to conceal his identity. Or was it me she was trying to hide? She didn’t look back to wave goodbye, didn’t drag me to the car so that we could finally meet, or point a finger toward the girl sitting alone in the sand box, surrounded by screaming children and their watchful parents. “There’s your little girl. She loves your present,” I imagined her saying.

I slammed the fire truck into the sand, using it as a shovel to dig a hole. When the truck wasn’t enough, I used my fingers, sand collecting beneath my nails. I scooped handfuls out, tossed them in all directions, spilling some in the grass. I would bury my truck at the bottom of the sandbox, and with it, all thoughts of my dad.

I was scratching at the wood base when I felt a finger poke the side of my neck.

“You’re under arrest for speeding!”

He looked like a giant standing on the ledge of the sandbox. He pointed a pale finger in my face, the other hand on his hip. His hair was a light brownish-orange and the same length as the bangs that covered his eyebrows and brushed his eyelashes as he blinked. Behind him, a little girl jumped hysterically, laughing and pointing. Her teal dress looked as if she’d been rolling in dirt all day. Mud streaked down her stomach, grass clung to the hem. Her hair was the same color as his. Flat and lifeless, it wrapped around her shoulders like a shawl as she jumped, moving only when she whipped her head to the side.

I slid to the other side of the sandbox and began a new hole. I didn’t like how the boy stared at me, how he stood over me, pointed his finger at the empty space between my eyes as if I were an object her was claiming possession over, and how his sister danced behind him, cheering him on. I turned my back to them. They’d soon walk away once they realized I wasn’t interested in playing.

Around the playground, a little boy kicked his legs back and forth, swinging higher and higher while his mother stood behind and pushed each time he returned. Two older kids raced each other down the monkey bars, each grabbing the other’s hand at the center to slow the other down and make him fall. A little girl wearing a Sesame Street t-shirt sat on a low-hanging branch in a tree, cupped her hands over her eyes and counted to ten while the other children scurried to find hiding places, tripping over one another and raised roots. Any one of them could’ve been arrested for running, speeding.

Instead, his cold hand tapped my shoulder.

“Did you hear me? I said you’re arrested.”

“You’re going to jail! You’re going to jail!” His sister twisted her hips from side to side, sticking her tongue out as she sang.

“No I’m not,” I said.

“Your truck was speeding. You have to go to jail,” he said.

“Lock up! Lock up!”

“Leave me alone.” I curved my shoulder to shield my face, hunched over my fire truck pushed the sand up to the ladder that was slightly curved down. The boy’s shadow loomed over me, fists pressed against hips, posing as if he were a superhero arrived to rid the playground of crime. I looked up at the bench across from me where the woman Mom had asked to watch me still sat. She ducked behind Better Homes and Gardens, pretending to read a recipe for pork medallions. She crossed her bare right leg over the left; it bounced again and again, kicking the air as if a doctor were constantly hitting her knee with the reflex hammer. Behind her left calf, underneath the bench, lay one of the boys playing hide and seek. His eyes darted back and forth from me to the girl bending over the seesaw, looking behind trees in search of the other players. I wanted to switch places with him, be protected behind the woman’s thick legs, unknowingly sheltering one child while she ignored the one she was assigned to watch over. I looked toward the street, hoping to see Gabbi’s van pull to the curb, feel the vibration of my dad’s music prickle my skin. Would he return to become the hero, an embodiment of the fire truck he gave me, more than the absentee father his photograph portrayed who never revealed his eyes and left his only daughter to face her persecutors alone?

I pulled my fire truck from its grave, shaking off sand. Some flew into my eyes, and I pinched them shut, trying to squeeze the sand out of them.

His skin felt like ice against my wrist. I heard the crack of plastic as my fire truck fell from my hand, hit the side of the wood sandbox, and the crooked side mirror finally popped off. With one hand clamped onto my wrist, he curled his slender fingers around my upper arm and yanked me to my feet.

“Come on. You’re going to jail,” he said.

“Move it!” his sister chimed.

“No! Stop!” I tried to break away, tug him down back into the sand with me and wrestle myself out of his grasp, pry his fingers from my arm turning blue under his tight grip, but he was much bigger and stronger than me. He dragged me over the ledge out of the sandbox, scratching my nose against the splinters. I curled my body and turned to the side, planted me feet into the ground, and with all my strength, I pulled back as though we were playing tug of war and my arm was the rope. As I was gaining momentum, pulling him down to the ground with me, his sister knocked her knee in the center of my back. My shoulders curved back with the force and I fell forward.

My face by his feet, the boy let go of my arm, giving me the false security that he had grown tired of harassing me. I lay catching my breath, the blades of grass bending backward as I exhaled. I raised my head, and traced the dark outline of his body in the grass in front of me. It shrank down as his arms curled under my armpits and he picked me up again, his legs straddling my body. I screamed for Gabbi as he waddled me over to a tree on the outskirts of the playground, behind the benches that served as a perimeter. My cries fell on deaf ears. It was as if we were the only three there.

He slammed me into the tree, mushing my face against the bark. My nose bent downward as the bridge collided with the tree trunk; I couldn’t breathe. Against the weight of his palm pressing into my crown, I shifted my head to the side, skidding my cheeks, piercing skin. I took two gulps of air.

“Assume the position!” he said, and while he held me down, his sister’s hands patted from my ankles up my leg, to my hips and waist, and down the other leg. “Check for weapons.”

My eyes burned from the tears and the sand. My temples pounded. My vision blurred. My stomach floated on the tense air. I’d begun to give up hope when I heard a voice so close I could touch it.

“I’m gone for five minutes and all hell breaks loose!”

It was Gabbi.

© Nortina Simmons

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 2 | Part 3

Literary Lion: Escaped the Bullet

My left arm feels like it’s on fire. Something is protruding from my shoulder. Bone? I throw my head back and scream.

“Quiet!” he says from the front seat.

Two minutes. I was two minutes from Ace Hardware. Two minutes from buying the screws and screwdriver that would secure my drive home. No more nervous glances in my rearview mirror. No more fear of flashing blue lights.

My dad was teaching me responsibility. If I wanted a car, I had to buy it with my own money. He’d been working on the ’99 Accord in the back yard for almost two months. He’d given it a fresh coat of paint, changed the tires, put in a new timing belt.

“Hondas are durable,” he told me. “You can put 300,000 miles on these boys, they’ll still run.” He told me if I could pay the insurance on it by myself for three months, he’d sell to me for a discount. $800. Three months later, I could finally take Stacey Carlton to the movies in my new ride.

Now, I fear the only Stacey I’ll ever kiss will have a beard, long shaggy hair, and call me his chocolate lollipop.

My hands are pinned behind my back. At least, I think they are. I can’t feel them, the metal cuffs cutting off my circulation. I can only feel the pain in my shoulder, as if a thousand sharp needles tied to a brick were being dragged down my arm.

“I think you dislocated my shoulder!”

“You cryin’, boy?”

“Th-the plate…. it’s in there. D-did you check the backseat? Under-r-r the driver’s s-seat? It must’ve fallen when I s-slammed on breaks.” I blink away the tears, hold my breath as my body shakes underneath the weight of the sobs.

“When you passed the stop sign,” he said flatly.

“I didn’t see it! The sh-shrubs.”

“You’re slurring your words, son. Have you been drinking?”

“I’m 17!”

“Underage drinking is against the law. Driving drunk, driving without registration, plates, insurance—that’s if you really bought the car— resisting arrest. They’re adding up quickly.”

“Call my dad. He’s on the way home. I was behind him. I just had to stop by Ace.”

“Is that some homeboy?”

“The store! So I could screw on the plate! Check the car!”

“I didn’t see anything.” He puts the cruiser in gear. I fall back into the seat, igniting the pinching pain in my shoulder that had temporarily fallen numb. I can no longer hold back the tears. The waterfall descends, and in my blurred vision, I am transported back a year, to my 16th birthday, three months before my grandma died. Her final words of advice ring loudly in my ears.

If you ever find yourself in a jail cell, whether you did something wrong or not, be happy you escaped the bullet.

—Nortina