#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: No Weapon

“Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy. No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 54:16-17, NKJV

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt.
The blind blessing we recited
as children over spilled food
on the dirty linoleum before
placing it back in our mouths,
swallowing with the confidence
that because God made it,
we cannot die.

But did God not create man,
and does he not hurt me
every day? From his heart
brews my downfall.
Date rape—
White supremacy—
Mass shootings—
A black, bitter coffee
he drinks with grit,
though it’s still boiling.

Shall I eat this bread
retrieved from a floor
on which a murderer may tread,
dragging my family and me
in a trail of blood behind?
God made him, right?
He cannot hurt us.


A revised version of the untitled original poem published February 4, 2015…may revise again later.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Roommate Horror Story

I fantasize about murdering my roommate every day.

When I wake up in the morning with a stuffy nose and a sore throat because she turned the thermostat down to fifty degrees in the middle of the night, I think about packing her body into one of those old chest freezers my grandparents keep in their basement. Since she apparently prefers to sleep in cold, dark places, she can pretend that it’s her own little ice coffin, and slowly perish next to ice cream, TV tray dinners, and freezer burned sausages.

When she uses my favorite pan to cook her nasty ass smothered beef cheeks and leaves the dirty pan in the sink for me to wash, I want to beat her over the head with it while it’s still hot from the stove, leaving red circular blisters all over her face.

When my sleep is rudely interrupted by her headboard ferociously slamming against my wall at three in the morning, I imagine taking a knife from the kitchen, slipping through the door she never closes, and plunging the knife through the skinny back of her boy-toy for that night and into her chest underneath.

Much to her dismay, we are not friends. I was desperate to find an apartment close to my new job, and she was desperate to find a replacement roommate before the next month’s rent, so we both turned to Craigslist for a resolution. Meeting her through Craigslist should have been my first clue that the girl was going to be a total pain in the ass. Anyone who has to resort to Craigslist for anything—a car, a job, a single white female, or in my case, an apartment—lacks a certain human quality that enables them to have normal relationships with others, myself included. Why else would I take pleasure in visualizing her infinite violent deaths? Of course, she drove me to it with all of her annoying quirks.

At first sight, Natalie seems like a nice girl. Cute, with olive skin, brown eyes, brown freckles, long light brown hair that she constantly flips and combs back with her fingers, and a tiny mouth with perfectly straight teeth—no doubt she’s had dental work done. She’s short, about five three, with a long slim waist, and she only wears sweatpants two sizes too big, and tank tops that she brings together to tie into a knot at the small of her back, showing off her curves, some midriff, and a pink thong underneath. From the outside you wouldn’t understand why I hate her so much, but outside appearances can often be deceiving.

Natalie is the type of person who intentionally does things to piss you off, testing you to see just how much of a pushover you are, then takes total advantage. She’ll pile dirty dishes in the sink and wait until you’re so fed up with the mess that you clean them yourself before she says, “Oh, I was gonna get that.” She’ll use the last roll of toilet tissue—conveniently, when you’re on your period—go to the store for some more, then hoard them in her room, saying, “If you really need some, you’d go buy it yourself.” When your boyfriend comes over for dinner and a movie, she’ll roam around the house stark naked, drawing his eyes from the movie and you to her perky tits, hard nipples, little round ass, and clean shaven cooch, and when you politely ask her to put on some damn clothes, she’ll say, “Can I not be comfortable in my own house?” and your boyfriend will say, while repositioning his pants, “Yea, babe. Let her be comfortable.”

Four months I dealt with this silently, expressing my resentment only to friends and my mom on our Sunday afternoon phone conversations. So many times I wanted to get back at her, but no matter how conniving my schemes were, I always chickened out. I’m not quite sure when my dreams of revenge—locking the screen door while she’s out on the balcony sunbathing, turning off the bathroom light while she’s in the shower, calling the next guy she brings home Dick, when his name is Jake—turned into elaborate plots of murder. I suppose the switch came the night I almost killed her.

Accidentally, of course.

I had cooked shrimp linguini alfredo for my dinner, and as soon as I turned off the oven, she came waltzing into the kitchen in a tank top and panties, singing, “Mmm, it smells so good in here! I think I’ll fix me a plate.”

Before I could even object, she was sitting at the counter with a plate overflowing with noodles. I watched her choke down my dinner without even pausing to catch her breath until suddenly, she dropped her fork and with wide eyes, demanded, “What’s in this pasta?” Before I could even answer, she was wheezing and clawing at her neck. I scurried behind her and tried to give her the Heimlich, but she swatted my hands away. She spun around in the chair, sticking out her swollen tongue and taking short, sharp gasps of breath that sounded like yelps for help. She clung to the front of my t-shirt and pointed a shaking finger towards her room.

Realizing she was having an allergic reaction to the shrimp, I took off to her room and scrambled through her purse until I found what I supposed was an EpiPen. When I returned to the kitchen, she was grappling on the floor, swinging her head back and forth, her hands clenched to her neck. I had never used an EpiPen before, only seen it done on TV, so I didn’t realize that I needed to remove it from the tube before I began stabbing her leg. She kept scratching my hand, shaking her head, and grunting at me like a gorilla. I was so confused, and her frantic wiggling terrified me more, keeping me frozen by her side squealing, “What do I do? What do I do!”

Eventually, she was able to pause her helpless thrashing and give herself the shot, seeing that I was of no help. When she was able to breathe again, she snatched herself from the floor. “God! I could’ve died!” she said before stomping off to her room and slamming the door behind her.

Could’ve is all that remains on my mind now.

Like I could’ve misplaced her EpiPen.

I could’ve cooked shellfish with my dinner tonight.

I could’ve offered it to her.


Original post published April 12, 2014.

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: I dream of wild strawberries

I dream of wild strawberries sprouting between the cracks of my dilapidated porch. Crawling on my hands and knees, I’ve regressed as this house; boarded windows, replace glass, cannot block the wind. The critters slip in at night, drawn to the dim light—a single lamp burns on my last paid electric bill. They settle in bed with me, finish eating the tattered sheets. It’s been days since the storm and still no relief, but I pry up the wood planks—splinters buried under fingernails. Fruit-shaped tear drops, the color of a summer sunset, red like the stop sign bent over backwards in overgrown grass. Seeds prick my tongue like taste buds; anticipation more satisfying than the bite. A sweetness that makes me forget the flood damage, the mosquitoes, the purple welts dotting my arms, the fever, the declined insurance claim, the spoiled milk and molded bread. A sweetness like Fourth of July cookouts, freshly mowed lawns, homemade ice cream melting on the spoon. A sweetness that reminds me of a lover’s kiss, saturates the mouth, explodes like a firework—as I sink in my teeth—and wake in darkness, cold, with drool on my chin.


Read the original, published October 17, 2017.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Kindling the Fire

I knew he was gone when I awoke shivering. Silly me for thinking this time would be different, that a random man I brought home from the bar would have the decency to stay at least until sunrise.

The hardwood floor feels like ice on the bottoms of my feet. I need carpets, but with what money? I’m too cheap to turn the heat on before the first deep freeze. Bedroom slippers will have to do for another month. At least the alcohol leftover in my system keeps me warm from the waist up. What need do I have for a man?

But I remember the sweet heat we made, driven by the booze that filled us to our limbs, when it was just our skin and sweat that separated us, and his tongue explored every inch of me, lapped me up like a steaming mug of cocoa.

How we made it from the bar five miles down the base of the mountain in his rattling 1992 Toyota pick-up remains a mystery to me. The air conditioning blasted our faces—he had no heat either—but it didn’t matter because we both sweated through our clothes, and I sat on his lap naked, bouncing on every pothole, every bump in the road. But it wasn’t to make the ride more titillating.

He couldn’t see.

I remember now. I was helping him drive–and teasing him at the same time. He juggled whether to put his fingers on the steering wheel or lift me up by the rear and slip them between the cracks.

But it was dark. No. Foggy. And something was falling. And the wipers did nothing but make the dirty windshield dirtier.

Damn him. I wish we crashed. It would have been better for me to die than to have him fill me up and empty me out all in one night.

I glance at the clock on my bedside table. There’s more light coming through my window than is normal for quarter to six. A thought comes that maybe it’s the headlights from his truck. He hasn’t pulled out of the driveway yet. I rush to part the curtains and give him a full view of what he’s leaving behind, what he’ll surely miss when he’s back home with whatever woman who’s got him running from me.

There’s always another woman. It’s my fate–my curse–to share, or have nothing at all. But now I long for nothing, because I’ve never felt this abandoned since the night my father left my mother and me in darkness in the middle of a blizzard to pay the electric bill and never came back.

And now my glowing backyard tells me what was falling from the sky last night.

Snow. At least an inch or more.

I shiver again, deep within myself, bones knocking. This day feels too familiar, too much like my childhood. I spot a trail of boot prints stretching from the back of the house toward the woods. His truck is still here. Damn thing must have died. Fluids frozen. He left it here. Somewhere there’s a man, half-naked, hungover, marching down the side of the road to the nearest service station, maybe looking for a hitch. With my luck, it’ll be a girl prettier and tighter than me, with less baggage.

I feel more used seeing his truck–here to remind me of every poor decision I ever made in life, drunk or sober. I’ll call a tow to have it removed, make sure he’s the one who has to pay for it.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to communication. No cellphone. I still keep a phonebook by the landline downstairs. I jog down two flights to get the feeling and the warmth back into my thighs and my feet. But a crackling halts me at the bottom step. I’m still naked, and despite what happened the night before, I’m not willing to let another stranger in.

I notice it’s warmer down here. The chill in my joints is gone. I cover my breasts and follow the heat through the foyer, to the living room, where the fireplace I haven’t touched in years is brought to life by dancing flames.

And he is standing over it, tending it with the poker.

“You’re still here?”

He looks up, smiles at me trying without success to hide the body parts he’s seen and touched and kissed and licked all through the night. And I remember the set of footprints I saw from my bedroom window, how it lead into the forest. But then there was a second trail, afar off, coming back.

He’d gone to get firewood.

He comes over, touches my hand still covering my breasts.

You start a fire burning…” I say, but I’m short of breath. I’m shaking once again, but it’s not from the cold. I still can’t believe he came back, and for me. What did I do to deserve this? Can any of it be real?

“Come by the fire,” he says, but he draws me into him, wraps his arms around me, cups my bottom, a middle finger slipping in between the cheeks, kisses me with his open mouth. Our tongues meet in the middle, our hot breath touching our lips, and every inch of me is set ablaze.


Original post written for the #LyricalFictionFriday challenge November 3, 2017.

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Southern Love

He made sweet tea in
the mason jar he used to
catch lightning bugs those

childhood summer nights.
When we’ve finished it all, drunk
on honey, we lick

our tongues inside, reach
for the crystalized sugar
caked to the bottom,

fill our mouths with more
as the sun sets and our cheeks
glow like fire flies.


This is a revised version of the original poem, which was posted May 3, 2015.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: To Rewind Time

I remember that he’s married now, so I ask about his wife.

“Pregnant,” he says.

I wait for details, but he only adds, “Very pregnant.”

Out of decency, I think to congratulate him, recite some drivel about how happy I am for him, how I wish him nothing but the best—all lies.

“How’ve you been?” he asks. Such a generic question, but there’s a hint of genuine concern in his voice, as if he’s picked up on my misery. I make no effort to hide it, and he had always been empathetic toward my feelings, even when he was the cause of my grief.

I look up into his eyes, and their weariness makes me feel safe. Reason would convince me that his visible tiredness is because of a demanding wife who, big with child, has driven him to take extra shifts—ringing up chips and smokes for night owls and runaways like me would be less strenuous than whatever hormonal crisis is unfolding at home—but I hold on to hope that seeing me again for the first time in five years has brought him to hate his own life, as I do mine.

“I’m being stalked by my boyfriend,” I tell him.

He laughs at what he thinks is an obvious joke, and a customer I don’t hear approach from behind taps my shoulder. His touch sends a surge down my arm as if I’ve just been electrocuted, and I feel I could literally jumped out of my own skin. I drop my bag of nabs along with the liter bottle of water onto the floor and curse under my breath for allowing myself to get distracted.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. He bends down to help me, but I shoo him away and quickly gather my things—I’ve stayed too long. What good will it do me to explain to an ex—one who’s happily married—that I’ve continued making bad choices, even after he was out of my life? I’d only be giving Craig more time to find me and force me back into his bed. I’ve wasted enough time; I must leave.

But I make the mistake of turning back before I exit the door, and he stares at me as he takes cash from the other customer.

I am still frozen by the door when the man brushes past, giving me a faint smile as he exists, and we are again left alone in this silent gas station convenience store save for the hum of the coolers on the back wall to remind us that we are still being watched.

“Why don’t you call the police?” he asks.

I’ve tried. Even as they promote campaigns to end domestic violence, to look for the signs, to pay closer attention to the most subtle ones, they don’t believe me. The absence of physical scars doesn’t help, and the fact that they know Craig further discredits my case.

“He is the police,” I say.

“Damn.” He drums his fingertips against the counter. I notice the nails are clipped too close to his skin, and I wonder if he still makes a habit of chewing them. He turns his head toward the short-circuit television, which displays the security camera footage in the store, and I step back, just out of shot, as another customer walks in, drawing the air conditioning outside with a draft. The bell above the door jingles, and I glance down at the time on my wrist watch. Fifteen minutes and counting.

“Hey.” He comes from behind the counter, and in two strides he is inches from me. I can feel his warm, steady breath blow just above my forehead. I forget how tall he is. He towers over me. I remember how he frightened me at times, even more when we argued. Now his eyes show a fierce anger, the deep amber in his irises pops out as in those of a predator, and all I want to do is fall into his arms like a damsel.

“I get off at eleven. Will you wait?” he asks.

I know I shouldn’t, and it’s selfish of me to keep him from his growing family, to worry him with my own feeble problems, especially when I’ve done this to myself. My eyes roll closed, and I imagine how different my life would be if five years ago I had only said those four simple words he was desperate to hear come back to him as he cradled the velvet ring box behind his back.

Original posted on May 31, 2017.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: A Love Affair With Jazz

From an earlier version of Love Poetry, here’s a Throwback snippet that will hopefully jolt me back into writing this novella, so I can finally, finally finish it.

To see how Love Poetry began, read my very first A to Z Challenge here. With the monstrous blog hop not even two weeks away, it feel  fitting to take you back to the beginning… 


A Love Affair With Jazz

Jessica didn’t know much about Eartha Kitt—only that she played Catwoman in the Batman television series and had an affair with Eddie Murphy in Boomerang—but she would’ve done anything to get out of her dismantled apartment. Her grandmother’s shattered china on the kitchen floor. The hole in the wall next to the photo of her mother. The front door, almost completely off its hinges after Whitmore slammed it behind him and kicked it with all his strength before finally leaving.

When Bruce called in the aftermath, Jessica said yes before he could ask the question, and now, as she sat at the table in the dimly lit restaurant, listening to the jazz musicians’ tribute to the late singer, she couldn’t help but feel intoxicated. Transcending the problems of her current relationship, she snapped her fingers, rolled her neck, and let out a deep moan.

“I knew you would like it,” Bruce whispered in her ear. He was suddenly standing behind her, massaging her shoulders. She hadn’t noticed him leave his seat across from her.

“You’re trying to seduce me,” Jessica said. “You know I have a man.”

“A man?” There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Jessica tried to laugh, but her weak chuckle pained her side. She knew this blissful moment couldn’t last. Even as she yearned for Bruce to wrap his arms around her and move her body with the soothing notes of the trombone, saxophone, and trumpet in harmony, every other man in the restaurant resembled Whitmore. She felt trapped, the walls closing in, the airways to her lungs blocked.

As if reading her mind, Bruce placed a hand on Jessica’s cheek. He wiped away invisible tears with his thumb. He nuzzled her neck and inhaled her perfume. “Lilacs,” he said smiling.

Jessica pursed her lips. “Dance with me.”

Bruce took her hand and together they glided to the dance floor just below the stage. The music had stopped, replaced with a rhythmic beat on a djembe drum. Jessica lifted the hem of her skirt, bounced and rocked her hips as the woman on stage sang into the microphone deep from the back of her throat.

Come oooonnnn-a my house . . .

Jessica danced and spun and let Bruce take her by the hips and pull her into him, his lips grazing behind her ear. She forgot about Whitmore. His unreasonable demands for affection. The tantrum he threw after she’d declined his third proposal. She threw her head back, wrapped her arms around the back of Bruce’s neck, pulling him closer to her. They danced for what seemed like hours.

The final beat on the drum sounded, and the piano, bass, and horns returned.

Oooooh, John, pleeease don’t kiss me. Ooooh, John, pleeeease . . .

Jessica rubbed her cheek against the coarse stubble on Bruce’s chin.

Oooooh, Bruce,” she echoed. “Pleeease . . .

And he kissed her.

—Nortina

Originally published February 12, 2015

 

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Together We . . .

What is there left to say? That is the question we must ask ourselves this final week of BlaPoWriMo. Does black poetry/literature still exist today, and if it does, for what purpose? Well, this poem, originally published February 15, 2016, explains why we still need black poetry…

Photo by @createdbyjarrod from nappy.co

Together We . . .

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

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Boycott the Dark Girl

Welcome to Week 3 of Black Poetry Writing Month, the most controversial. Why? Some people might not like what the Black Arts Movement stood for— militancy, radical activism, not going quietly into the night…

But what I love most about this era is that black writers didn’t seek approval or acceptance, but demanded what was rightfully theirs, the innate freedoms due to all Americans. Because we are ALL AMERICANS.

The poets of this generation were unapologetic in their message, they didn’t care who they offended, they didn’t care if their opinions were unpopular. They only cared for the liberation of their people.

In a similar fashion, Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime performance of her song “Formation” was unapologetic in it’s message, and boy did it make some people angry! This brings us to today’s BlaPoWriMo throwback…

Boycott the Dark Girl

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


Originally published February 10, 2016.

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Too Close

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

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

Photo by @theoptimistdreamer from nappy.co

Too Close

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

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

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

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

too close.

—Nortina