Just a Kiss

Even as he stabs her,
she wants to kiss him,
plant her purple lips on
the slick skin of his crown.

Even as he plunges the serrated
end of the flag pole deeper
into her chest, pins her to the
eastern wall of the first baptist church—
rebuilt in brick to withstand future bombings—
twists it, widens the gap in her heart,
she reaches out for him, carresses his
chiseled chin, his blue eyes cool as steel.

Maybe his fear of miscegenation
will make him angry enough
to put an end to her silent love song.

—Nortina

Charlottesville, 2017

“The light of the righteous shines brightly,
but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.”
Proverbs 13:9

Jesus tells me I am the light of this world;
so let my light shine.
There’s a glow outside my dorm room window.
I dare not go to it—
won’t be a moth to the flame.
The spirit of fear consumes me.
I cower in a corner, wedged between bed—
sheets damp with sweat—
and wall—cool to the touch.
I hear their voices rising — “White Lives Matter” —
demons behind them chanting, White is Power.
These are not lights of salvation;
theses torches seek to light crosses in front lawns,
to set ablaze nooses that string up bodies,
bodies broken like my Christ’s, and I pray—
God, why have you forsaken us?
Sealed us in a world so consumed with sin and hate
that even at high twelve noon all I see is darkness;
my own hand, extended in front of my eyes, becomes invisible.
A lake of fire flows outside my window.
Skin white as alabaster turns blacker than my own.
Hearts hardened like stone.
There’s no pumping of blood, no echo of life.
A flat beat, a solid stomp, a marching in unison,
like the rigid motions of a rusted metal machine,
like the recurring lashes of the whip.
In my corner I hide, like a lamp doused by shade.
Tested by fire, my works amount to nothing
and my world will be encased in a blackness more
cursed than the skin I wish to shed to the knocking
at my door. The devil and his angels wait for me,
beckoning with their false light
too dim to pass the crack in the threshold.
Today is the day I decide whose shame I will bear;
if I will pick up my cross and
deny my life for light’s sake.
Planted on the top floor where all can see,
I lift my covering off my Head and release
a brightness so incorruptible it expels the darkness
from my door, my window, my campus, my town—
miles away. Blinding like sun reflected
in glass, even from space.
Let it shine, I hear my Jesus whisper,
Let is shine.

—Nortina


Some words I strung together in response to the horrific scenes coming out of Charlottesville, VA this week.

Demonstration

Bobbi sits the head in her lap, loops thread through needle. “We’ll wrap a turban around it.” She licks the needle point, begins to stitch. “Paint the face a dusty brown.”

“Wouldn’t that be a little offensive?” Tamra asks as she shifts the heavy camera onto her right shoulder. “A dead Muslim in the middle of town square?”

“What will be offensive is how people react to it.” When the cloth is securely fastened to the dummy’s crown, Bobbi folds it like a napkin.

“If I saw what I thought was a dead man in the street, I’d be scared.”

Bobbi sighs, looks up at the mute television. Four balding white men fill the screen, one pounds his fist on the table. Kill radical Islam, the subtitles read, we can talk about gun control later.

“That’s the difference between us and them.” Bobbi points. “All we see is a man.”

word count: 150

—Nortina


img_0797Written for VisDare, a weekly challenge to craft a story based on the provided photo in 150 words or less.

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Book Description:

60931Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her 26th birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.


Kindred, a neo-slave narrative (fictionalized account of slavery), shows how slavery can still affect us, even when we’re generations removed from it. For Dana, it has a very literal effect. While unpacking her things in her new home with her husband, Kevin, Dana falls under a sudden dizzy spell that sends her back in time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets a distant white relative (hence the title, Kindred). She’s drawn to him each time his life is in danger and must assimilate herself into a very different era and culture — become a slave — and when needed, save his life enough times so that he can eventually father her great-grandmother. Every time Rufus draws her, the stay grows longer, extending from hours, to months, to even years, and Dana must come to terms with the fact that she must play the part of a slave woman, denying herself the basic freedoms she had back in 1976, in order to survive until she can find a way back home.

So often we treat slavery like a history lesson — a dark chapter in our country’s distant past that we choose to forget or pretend has no relevance in today’s world when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Slavery very much becomes a reality for Dana, and no matter how hard we try to ignore it, it has been a reality for us too. Think of terms such as light skin vs. dark skin (house slaves vs. field slaves), Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, the “N” word, white guilt, or white privilege — all are effects of slavery that still sting today.

Chapter three presents an excellent example of white privilege. It’s Dana’s third trip back, and this time, Kevin accompanies her. In this chapter, we learn that Kevin is white. For two months, Dana and Kevin “act” out their roles of slave and slave master. Then Kevin makes the mistake of saying life in antebellum Maryland isn’t so bad. To him, it would be like acting, but Dana is constantly reminded how she fits in this world. She sees the little black children play slave auction, learning their own objectification early. She’s forced to watch a man have the skin whipped off his back — a warning to the other slaves against insubordination. And later, she herself receives the same beating for teaching another slave how to read.

But Kevin will soon learn that antebellum life isn’t so easy, and it will age him, tremendously.

Reading Kindred made me want to retrace my family tree, as Dana had. While my Ancestry DNA results revealed a lot about my heritage, they did little to connect me with my distant relatives, so I found a 100% free database to search for records using the names I had from our family tree.

Unfortunately, especially for blacks in America, we will inevitably reach a date where all the information suddenly stops. For me, it was 1870, roughly seven years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the U.S. From that 1870 census, I learned that my great-great-grandfather, who was rumored to have been white, was actually labeled mulatto, and his parents — also mulatto — were more than likely born slaves. As far what happened to them prior to 1870 — who their parents were, who their masters (and most likely my distant relatives) were — I’ll probably never know.

That’s how slavery slaps you in the face sometimes.

Like it slapped Dana, and beat her, and whipped her, and attempted to rape her. That’s another harsh realization Dana has to face about her ancestors (and I about mine, as well); it’s highly probable that she — or rather, her great-grandmother — was not conceived from a mutual love between two parents, but from one overpowering the other simply because there’s nothing that tells him he can’t.

What’s most striking about this novel is its concept of home. The more time Dana and Kevin spend in the past, the harder it becomes for them to adjust to normal life when they return “home.” And even when they’re back in 1976 California for good, the first thing they do is fly to Maryland to visit their ancestral home to see what happened to the people who had become like family to them.

Of course, they’ll never know what happened. If they did, we wouldn’t still be asking questions today.

Why do we continue to run back to the past? Yesterday, I was telling my aunt that every year, there’s a new movie or television special out about slavery. This year, Hollywood is releasing two feature films: Free State of Jones and The Birth of a Nation. On TV, the History Channel is presenting Roots on Memorial Day, and Underground premiered earlier this Spring on WGN.

I fear we’ll always have questions about our troubling past, and no matter how many books we read, how many movies with watch, how many plantations we visit, or how many historical databases we search, we’ll never find the answers we seek. We may be over 150 years removed from slavery, but it’s not rid of us yet. It probably never will be. It’s why I love how this novel ends so much. Some may find the ending unsatisfying, but can any answer we receive from slavery ever truly be satisfying? What happens on Dana’s final exit from the past is a very literal and physical illustration of how slavery snatches so much away from us, even when we’ve never experienced it ourselves.

Kindred is probably the best novel I’ve read so far this year, and while I felt some parts could have been edited or polished better, especially in the beginning and in some of the character dialogue, it didn’t make that much of a difference on my score…

4.5/5 stars!

four_half-stars_0-1024x238

Schizophrenic Skeet

“Is there anything else you want to ask me?” Mama said.

SI peeked into the community area where Grandma and her circle of friends sat by the door. Grandma’s lips moved in a blur and she threw her arms about her wildly as she spoke. Thomas was leaning so far back in the rocking chair, he was nearly on the floor cackling up a storm. Even Frank had a hint of a smile on his thin lips. Grandma must be on her next husband. Judging from her and Thomas’ animated body language, it was a story I couldn’t miss.

I turned my attention back Mama’s question. She’d settle my unease about Pawpaw—he was my granddaddy, blood relation or not—but I still had concerns about my biological grandfather, Lindell. I knew nothing about him apart from the fact that he was white and was murdered by bigots. Who was the real Lindell? He was Grandma’s soulmate, but did he have any other family, and if so, where were they now? I was only a fourth of him, but I wanted more. I wanted a connection with him. I wasn’t sure if or how Mama could provide any of that for me, but it didn’t hurt to try.

“How did you feel when Grandma told you about your real father?”

Mama breathed heavily into the receiver. “Honestly . . . I didn’t believe her. I’d just listened to her say all these horrible things about white men. They’re the devil. They killed Reynolds. Then all of a sudden she was married to one—I was half of what she hated. I threw it back in her face.”

It made sense, for Grandma to be completely enamored with a man, yet hate everything about him at the same time—his privilege. The world around them accepted him, but they hated her, and they detested the two of them together. When it came to making a choice, they would always choose Lindell over her, no matter the situation, even in murder. His death would be quick, utterly painless, but hers, hers would be brutal. Such was the agitated relationship between the races during that time—in some cases, it still is. Grandma knew all of this, and she married Lindell anyway. I couldn’t ask to be braver.

“We didn’t talk about him again until I was in college,” Mama said, “actually, when I was pregnant with you—after your father had hightailed it out of there and transferred to another school.”

My father. Scarce memories of him still lingered in my mind, but I could barely even picture his face now. He’d been gone for so long. In reality, he was never around. He showed up when it was convenient for him, usually with a thoughtless present of a wrinkled dollar bill, ill-fitting clothing, or beaten up toys he’d bought from a garage sale.

I never had a relationship with my father. Pawpaw and Uncle Richard were enough, and if Lindell were alive, I knew he would love me just as unconditionally as he loved Grandma. But my real father? Mama said he’d wanted her to get an abortion when he found out she was pregnant. I couldn’t love a man who only saw me as a fetus that needed to be expelled. That kind of man wasn’t a father; he was a sperm donor.

“Knowing that yours wouldn’t be around, it reinvigorated the desire to want to know more about Lindell. That’s when Ma introduced me to his sister, and Meg, if there was any doubt in my mind that Lindell was my father, that all stopped the moment I met Aunt Jenny. It was like looking into a mirror.”

I was standing so close to the ficus tree, that when I sucked in all the air around me, one of the leaves went straight into my mouth, and the tip scratched at the back of my throat. I coughed it out and screeched, “Did you say aunt Jenny?”

Mama didn’t hear the utter shock in my voice. She continued on plainly, “Yea. Sweet lady. She died a few years ago. Her husband’s actually at Cedar with Ma.”

“Drake!”

“Yea, that’s his name. You’ve met him?”

“He’s been following me around like a lost puppy all afternoon, calling me Jenny!”

Mama laughed her high-pitched hyena-like series of “hee-hees” then said, “He’s a frisky one. He was feeling up on me when I first met him too, and Jenny was still alive then!”

“Let me call you back, Mama.” I marched back to the community area to confront Grandma and Drake. All this time I thought he was calling me Jenny because he was a lonely old man, when in fact, I was actually her distant niece. No wonder he claimed I looked just like her. Grandma did say all the women in our family looked like their aunts.

“Oh, ok, hon. I’ll probably be sleep when you call, so just text me or leave a message.”

We exchanged our “I love yous” and I hung up the phone.

Grandma was still talking about her next husband. She clawed at the air in front of her, as if digging into the ground. “He kept hearing someone knocking. Knocking under the floorboards. But we lived on the first floor. There was nothing there but dirt.”

“He dug his own damn grave,” Thomas snorted.

“He dug himself straight to hell,” Jerry added.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!”

“Grandma!”

She jumped when she heard her name and looked up at me. “Oh, Meg. I didn’t even see you there. I was just telling everyone about Skeet. Would you like to—”

I shook my head and put both hands on my hips. “So, when were you gonna tell me that Drake’s wife, Jenny, was Lindell’s sister?”

“Damn!” Jerry said.

Grandma’s jaw dropped, and I could scarcely hear her whisper, “Oh,” before she quickly closed her mouth.

—Nortina


Be sure to check out other “S” posts from the A to Z Challenge.

Revolutionary Reynolds

“Mama! I’m so glad you called me back!” I returned to my corner in the lobby next to the ficus tree. The nurse at the front desk watched me out the corner of her eye. That noisy woman spent more time eavesdropping on my conversations than she spent doing her own job. Then again, working the front lobby of a nursing home was probably an eventless endeavor. How many residents had regular visitors? Grandma had been there three years, and I could only remember a handful of guests who came as often as I did—most of them volunteers. I was the highlight of her day.

“What did your grandmother tell you?” Mama’s voice sounded dejected.

“Am I interrupting something?” I asked.

“I’ve been up since five in the morning,” she said.

“I won’t take long.” I blew air through my cheeks. Now that I had her on the phone, I didn’t know where to start. Uncle Richard had already answered the questions I would’ve asked her. What more could Mama tell me about Lindell, anyway? She’d never met him, and she was too young to remember her first five stepfathers after him.

I’d spent most of my afternoon seeking proof of Grandma’s unbelievable stories. Now that I had someone to finally settle my befuddled mind, my only inquiry was why had it taken so long for my family to say anything about our history? Why was I the last to learn the truth? Why did Grandma have to be in a nursing home before she told me?

“When did Grandma tell you about your real father?” It wasn’t the question I wanted to ask, but depending on how she answered, maybe it would bring me closer to understanding why I was left in the dark for so long.

Mama’s breathing picked up, and a steady whistle of wind blew into the phone. She was outside, probably walking to her car after another long shift. “I don’t think she ever really told me,” she said exasperated. The door closed, and I could hear the jangling of her keys as she turned the ignition and cranked the engine. “I found out by accident.”

“How? Did you find it on your birth certificate?” Most people never saw their own birth certificates, but there were few times when it was needed to prove one’s identity. I could only remember twice asking Mama for my birth certificate. The first, when I signed up for driver’s ed. at school, and the second time was when I registered for my first passport.

“No. And my birth certificate has Milton Gregory listed as my father.”

Milton, the man who married Grandma after Lindell died so she wouldn’t face the shame of having a baby out of wedlock.

R“I found out about Lindell when I was about ten. It was right after Reynolds died.”

“Reynolds?”

“He was Ma’s husband after the preacher.”

“Oh,” I said silently. I chuckled at how neatly everyone’s chapter fit so perfectly together—Grandma, Uncle Richard, Mama, even the nurses who’d only gotten bits and pieces. Many different narrators, but still the same story.

“He was a black rights activist. He actually tried to start a Black Panther chapter in our neighborhood. It scared Ma to death. She kicked him out when she found his stash of guns. I know it was only for self defense, but the people in power don’t see it that way. They don’t like it when their status quo is disrupted. That’s why organizations like the KKK and the Neo Nazis still exist, and the Panthers are dust.”

I knew before Mama even said it; Reynolds would suffer the same death as Lindell, rooted in hate and racism.

“He was protesting with the textile workers in front of Morningside Homes when they got him.”

“He was one of the people killed in the massacre?” It was an event that would mar our city for years to come. Morningside Homes, an apartment still leasing today, but who could visit it without being reminded of how demonstrators were killed like wild game in broad daylight—in front of television cameras, broadcasted on the local news—while the police did nothing. I wasn’t there, but I’d seen the videos, listened to the chants of “Death to the Klan!” as cars with Confederate flags on the bumpers circled the block. I watched the Klan members pull up to the curb, take rifles from their trunks, and gun down anyone in their paths. Despite there being video chronicling the whole massacre, every single Klansman indicted was acquitted of all charges.

“Ma beat herself up about it. She kept saying she sent him to his death. I just wanted to cheer her up. I’d gotten into her makeup, and I was gonna doll myself up to make her smile. That’s when I found the picture of her and Lindell.”

“And she told you everything?” I asked.

There was silence on the other end. I suspected Mama was nodding. She was notorious for making gestures over the phone knowing I couldn’t see her. If she would finally upgrade her barely functional flip phone, maybe we could FaceTime. I didn’t see her enough. I missed my mom. New Orleans was too far away, and the flights I worked on went either North or West, never down South, never into the bayou.

“I think I always knew my real father was dead, though. She’d been married so many times, and none of them stayed around long enough for me to start calling them daddy.”

“Except Pawpaw.”

“Except . . .” I could hear a deep sigh. I knew a speech was coming. “Listen, honey. As far as you’re concerned, Daddy will always be your Pawpaw, ok? Don’t let all this new information confuse you about who your family is. Daddy loved you and me like we were his own blood, and he was crazy about Ma.”

I laughed a little in my throat. “Thanks, Mama,” I said. She always told me exactly what I needed to hear.

—Nortina


I’m all caught up! Whoo hoo! Thanks for sticking with me, and be sure to check out more about the A to Z Challenge. By the way, I’ve been trying to put a little history in my chapters, and the massacre at Morningside Homes was definitely a true event. If you’re curious to learn more, click here.

Lynched Lindell

“With all of these husbands you had, why is it that you only have one child?” Tammy asked Grandma.

Grandma twiddled her thumbs. “I wondered that myself. I guess that’s just how life works out for some of us.” She hung her head and stared at her hands in her lap. “Miscarriages run in my family. I’ve had quite a few of them.”

I didn’t hear my own gasp. “Is this true?” I asked.

“I had three with Carl. Two in the months before we married, and the third one came after he died.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Winifred said.

I blinked several times to squelch approaching tears. “How did you cope?” I asked.

Grandma inhaled deeply and exhaled through her mouth, making a soft whistle. “Your Pawpaw was my longest marriage. Everything else was two, maybe three years on average? I guess, when you only have such a short time to show someone how much you love them—” Grandma raised her hand the way witnesses in court swore on the Bible, “and I did love all of my husbands, in my own little way, even Burt—” She licked her dry lips and plucked at the peeling skin. “I guess . . . once you realize that you’ll be their last memory leaving this world . . . you just want to make sure they never live to regret marrying you . . . and you just accept that you probably won’t have any children . . . or if you do . . . know they’ll grow up never knowing their father.” Grandma twirled the end of her sleeve around her finger as she rambled on.

“That’s so sad,” Tammy said.

Grandma shook her head. “No, my life is never sad. I’ve had sad moments, but also amazing ones.” Grandma raised her chin proudly. “A normal person will probably never find their soulmate. Or if they do, they’ll only have one, or the relationship won’t last their lifetime. Me, I’ve been married twenty-six times and have found my soulmate at least a fourth of those times. When you have someone who knows your soul like that—” Grandma beat her fist against her chest. “The way Carl knew me. And Andrew, Lindell—” She wave her hand in front of my face. “Your Paw . . . It won’t matter if you never have kids. All that matters is that you spend the rest of your life loving your soulmate as hard and as deeply as they love you.” Grandma closed her eyes and laid her head on the headrest of her chair, visibly spent from her speech.

I felt the urge to want to call Kyle. He texted me that morning asking about dinner. Drinks were nice, but let’s have a real date, his message said. I never answered. Agreeing to a quiet meal at an overpriced restaurant where the wait staff wore semiformal attire and frowned at anyone in jeans and flip flops was too much of a commitment to me. I didn’t want to jeopardize my job, or his. On top of that, I didn’t know what to expect from Kyle, what he expected from me. Past experiences had taught me that first date impressions often changed. He was a gentleman before, would he be one after? If the relationship soured, would I still feel comfortable flying with him?

However, Grandma’s speech reminded me of how important life and love was. What was the purpose of living if I spent my entire life avoiding the possibilities because of the “what ifs”? Grandma had married the same number of men as I had years. By the time she was my age, she had already been married eleven times, and her life had barely begun. Meanwhile, all I could account for was a date who stood me up the night of Junior prom and a goldfish that died after only three hours.

I took my cellphone from the front pocket of my purse and typed three letters: Y-E-S.

Kyle’s response was almost immediate. Pick you up at 8.

When I looked up from my phone, Grandma was smiling at me. “You’re turning red, Meg,” she said with a wink.

L“Millie.” Jerry cleared his throat, leaned back in his chair to raise his leg and cross it over the other one. “You’ve talked about Andrew. You’ve talked about Carl, and about Meg’s grandpa. But I don’t think you ever told us what happened to your husband Lindell.”

“It’s hard talking about him sometimes,” Grandma said.

“Because of the way he died?” I asked.

“I just don’t understand how people can hate.” She turned to Frank. “Why?” she asked, and then again, “Why!”

Frank kept his face hidden behind the newspaper.

“We were all made in God’s image. Who cares if we’re different colors? Why? Tell me why!” She jumped from her chair and snatched the newspaper out of Frank’s hands, tearing it in half. “This black and white goes together.” She pointed, shoved the paper back in Frank’s face. “Why can’t we? Why?”

“Bah!” Frank said.

Grandma returned to her chair, again looking exhausted. She curled her legs under her, sitting on the side of her ankles, and hugged herself. “Lindell and I had been dating a year when we heard about the Supreme Court ruling. June 12, 1967. A day forever remembered as Loving Day. It had to be fate that their married name was Loving. It sounds crazy now, but back then, they put you in jail for what Mildred and Richard did. It shouldn’t be a crime to fall in love.

“Marrying Lindell was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The law was the law, but we still lived in the South. For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t try harder to convince him that we should move North, where it was safer. But he was a proud man, and he wasn’t gonna let a bunch of racist redneck fear mongers run him out of his own home.”

Frank’s cheeks were sunken, the corners of his mouth curved downward. His loose skin dragged down his face. To the ignorant watcher, he appeared asleep, but I knew he’d heard everything Grandma said, and was ashamed.

“They were disgusting. They wanted to see us do it. Fulfilling a suppressed fantasy, maybe? They watched from the window. We didn’t even know.”

“Who is they?” Thomas asked.

“Them! The men that killed Lindell! So many of them. It was like an army.” Grandma shut her eyes and rocked on her heels, reliving the horrifying events of that night. “They broke in the second we were done. All of them, trying to get into that one window. It was enough time for me to run. Lindell fought them off so I could get away. He didn’t care what happened to him, but if they caught me, they would do their worst.

“There was no point in calling the police. Lindell was a traitor and I was black. They wouldn’t come. Some of those mob men probably were cops. I ran to the closest neighbor’s barn. They only had chickens, so I climbed to the second level and hid in the hay. I didn’t move that whole night.

“The next day was Sunday. The Sabbath. Everyone was in church, praying and asking for forgiveness, while my whole world was crashing down. When I came home that morning, I found Lindell hanging from a tree in our backyard.”

“Oh my god!” Tammy gasped.

Jerry picked up a tissue box, snatched out a few sheets and handed them to Grandma. “You are a brave woman.”

“I couldn’t save him,” she sobbed. She blew her nose and balled the tissue in her fist.

“It wasn’t your job,” Jerry said.

“He protected his wife like he was supposed to,” Thomas added.

“His memory will live on in you, Grandma,” I said.

“Yes.” Drake nodded his head in a large gesture, nearly tipping himself over/

Grandma sniffed and rubbed her nose.  “A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.”

“Oh no,” Winifred whispered. “Did you have another miscarriage?”

“This one went full term.” She lifted herself off of her legs and stretched them out in front of her, staring down at her ankles. “April that next year, I had a girl. I named her in honor of her father.” She bit down on her bottom lip, looked up at me and quickly glanced away. “Linda.”

“No,” I said quietly, shaking my head, then screamed, “It’s not true!”

The other seniors were startled by my sudden outburst, but Grandma didn’t move a muscle, her entire body tense. She kept her eyes glued to her ankles. She understood why I was so upset. Linda was Mama’s name.

—Nortina


Gee, it’s taking longer and longer for me to get these posted . . .  Where’s my coffee?

I hope you enjoyed the story of Lindell from 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths. Be sure to check out other “L” posts from the A to Z Challenge.

loving-1
More about Mildred and Richard Loving

Black Poetry Writing Month: Bonus Prompt

The first ever Black Poetry Writing Month project ends on a day that only comes once every four years. How poetic! It was fun being your hostess, and I would like to thank everyone who participated, liked, commented, reblogged, retweeted, shared on Facebook, etc. Your positive feedback only motivates me to continue this project every February for years to come.

I’m so proud that my inner procrastinator took a back seat and allowed me to post a new prompt every day (it was a struggle some days, especial on the weekends). Over the next year, I’ll explore new ways to make the prompts more interesting and fun so that everyone can participate, whether you are a poet or not, whether you are black or not. Don’t let the “Black” part deter you. Black Poetry Writing Month, Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, Black “anything” does not mean anti-white. As I said in my introductory post, it’s simply a celebration of how far we’ve come and a reminder that we still have much to do.

As I tell my people who complain about Black History Month being in February, don’t let this month be the only time you write a “black” poem. Write whenever you feel inspired. The prompts are still up. You can come back to them anytime. As I did not write a poem for every single prompt, I know I will. If you missed any of the prompts, or if you’re just discovering Black Poetry Writing Month at its close, here they are again:

Write a Poem that Ignites

Write a Poem for the Activist

Write a Poem for the Voter

Write a Poem for Your Elders

Write a Poem for the Lost Soldier

Write a Poem for Your Sons

Write a Poem About an Incident

Write a Poem for the Mask Wearer

Write a Poem in Dialect

Write a Poem for the “Dark Girl”

I want to interrupt the list on a quick side note. For those of you who follow my Sunday Morning Word series, you know I love spoken word poetry. While spoken word is not exclusively black, there is such raw talent, power, and emotion in the way many black poets perform their poems, especially when the subject of the poem focuses on the sometimes uncomfortable issue of race in America.

I came across two poems that closely relate to the prompt about the underappreciated, “ugly” black woman. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to share most (they are equally powerful), so I decided on both. The first is called “Stay Woke.” If you recognize one of the poets in this duo, she’s Kai Davis. I shared another poem of hers in one of my first blog posts—a subject that I return to often: “acting white.”

What do you think? Has anyone else awoken from that performance? Ok, let’s pick up where we left off . . .

Write a Poem for the Weary Slave

Write a Poem for the Community

Write a Poem for the Strong Black Woman

Write a Poem for the Black Orator

Write a Song for the Field Slaves

Write a Poem for the Slave Mother

Write a Poem for the “Don’t Care Negro”

Write a Poem of Double Consciousness

Interrupting the list again. I didn’t forget about the second spoken word poem I wanted to share. While the first one was a very animated performance that had a few laughing moments, this one is much more heartbreaking. Titled, “To Be Black and Woman and Alive,” it is again talking about the self-hatred of black women and the unseen beauty of their bodies. Watch.

I hope one of these spoken word pieces speaks to you today. I hope they inspire you to write a poem that awakens an ignorant world, that admires the beauty in everyone equally, inside and out. Maybe it’ll inspire you to take a dab at spoken word poetry. These women are talented wordsmiths and speakers. I would love to one day perform my poetry as effortlessly as they do.

Now, let’s finish the list of Black Poetry Writing Month prompts . . .

Write a Poem About a “Beverly Hills, Chicago”

Write a Poem for the Cool Kids

Write a Song from the Front Yard

Write a Poem Inspired by Music

Write a Poem that Remembers (Black) History

Write a Poem that Promotes Self-Love

Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

Write a Poem for the At-Risk Youth

Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Write a Poem that Starts a Conversation

And that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who participated, spread the word, provided insight, or simply just enjoyed the idea of having a Black Poetry Writing Month. See you next February!

By the way, when NaPoWriMo comes around in April, don’t hesitate to come back to one of these prompts for inspiration. Like I said before, BlaPoWriMo shouldn’t be limited to just one month. 🙂

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Lessons from a Mirror

Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.

Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.

Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.

Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.

Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?

Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette

and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.

I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.

And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.

When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.

—Thylias Moss, from Pyramid of Bone (1989)

 

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Sarah Baartman, an African freak show, for lack of better terms, who was paraded around Europe, her body put on display for white people far and near to marvel and its strange features (large breasts and buttocks), and measure her against white woman (even after her death). In an effort to elevate themselves as the superior race, they declared that fair, virginal Victorian age white women were the image of beauty and portrayed Baartman as the abnormal “other.”

Hundreds of years later, and black women are still experiencing this kind of marginalization.

Moss’s poem alludes to the tale of Snow White, in which the evil queen/stepmother asks the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all, and it tells her Snow White. Like the evil queen, black women are told daily, whether directly or indirectly, that white women are prettier, that white women are purer, that white women are more desirable lovers. We are forever living in the shadow of their “beauty.” The few times that black women are complimented, it is for their European features, which overtime created the problem of colorism within the black community (light skin vs. dark skin).

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Source: Ebony

Black women are constantly pressured to look more like white woman—never mind that most white women don’t even look the world’s imaginary “beauty standards.” Whether it’s a daughter being expelled from school because her hair was too distracting, a model’s dark brown skin being lightened on a magazine cover, a female rapper or celebrity with a very round derrière being slut shamed, or a business woman being fired from her job for refusing to straighten her hair or wear a weave or wig because her boss thinks her naturally outward growing hair is unprofessional.

What’s more insulting is that many black men (not all, but a lot) often praise white women while degrading black women at the same time. While I’m a huge advocate for interracial dating—you love who you love; skin color shouldn’t matter—I do have a problem with black men who only date white women because they hate black women. Excuse me, sir, but your mother is black. Your daughter, no matter how much you try to mix that blood around, will still be black. What’s more demeaning is their worship of “exotic” or “foreign” women, or “white girls with a fat ass,” while the most a black woman would hear is, “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” “I only date light skin girls,” “Hell must’ve froze over for me to date a black girl.”

It’s hard to stomach some of the hurtful things I’ve heard black men say about black women. I often wonder where all this animosity comes from. Is it a form of self-hate or did all these men really have the same bad relationship experience with a black woman? I’m leaning more toward the former.

The last two stanzas are the most heartbreaking of this poem. I’m sure all women have that occasional fear that they’re not good enough for their man, that one day a smarter, prettier, nicer woman would come through and take him away. For black women, especially black who’ve heard their men say the above comments, we fear that woman will be white. No matter how hard I try to please him, will he still leave because I’m not white enough for him, because I’m too black? When you enter a relationship thinking this way, you quickly realize that “more than white is missing.”

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the black girl staring into her reflection, for the black girl pinching her skin to bring up the white. Tell her she’s beautiful. God created her in His image and likeness. Tell her she doesn’t have to alter her body, God’s body, to feel loved.

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.