An Old Woman Remembers

This poem tells a story of the 1906 Atlanta riots.

Her eyes were gentle, her voice was for soft singing

In the stiff-backed pew, or on the porch when evening

Comes slowly over Atlanta. But she remembered.

She said: “After they cleaned out the saloons and the dives

The drunks and the loafers, the thought that  they had better

Clean out the rest of us. And it was awful.

They snatched men off of streetcars, beat up women.

Some of our men fought back and killed, too. Still

It wasn’t their habit. And then the orders came

For the milishy, and the mob went home,

And dressed up in their soldiers’ uniforms,

And rushed back shooting just as wild as ever.

Some leaders told us to keep  faith in the law,

In the governor; some did not keep that faith,

Some never had it; he was white, too, and the time

Was near election, and the rebs were mad.

He wasn’t stopping hornets with his head bare.

The white folks at the big houses, some of them

Kept all their servants home under protection

But that was all the trouble they could stand.

And some were put out when their cooks and yard-boys

Were thrown from cars and beaten, and came late or not at all.

And the police they helped the mob, and the milishy

They helped the police. And it got worse and worse.

“They broke into groceries, drugstores, barbershops,

it made no difference whether white or black.

They beat a lame bootblack until he died,

They cut an old man open with jackknives

The newspapers named us black brutes and mad dogs.

So they used a gun butt on the president

Of our seminary where a lot of folks

Had set up praying prayers the whole night through.

And then, “she said, “our folks got sick and tired

Of being chased and beaten and shot down.

All of a sudden, one day, they all got sick and tired

The servants they put down their mops and pans

And brooms and hoes and rakes and coachman whips,

Bad niggers stopped their drinking Dago red,

Good Negroes figured they had prayed enough,

All came back home–they had been too long away–

A lot of visitors had been looking for them.

They sat on their front stoops and in their yards,

Not talking much, but ready; their welcome ready:

Their shotguns oiled and loaded on their knees.

 

“And then

There wasn’t any riot anymore.”

 

by Sterling Brown

Black Entertainment

another great entertainerrobinson_large

bojangles

jingled his way to the top

tapped nonstop

for him it was play

but he was made to work it

he tapped himself to the stage

jingling jangling

jangling baby jangling

until he couldn’t stop

because the penalty was

whuppings on his back

so he tapped himself

until his freedom ran raw from his pores

’til blood seeped from his soles

’til sweat poured from his soul

Sambo led the way for black entertainment

remember that

For Nazir

My little brother has the sweetest dimples

as if honey dipped happiness puddles on his brown chin

Legs made to run and he’s barely one

I hope he’s quick

burdened by forever fitting the description

I hope he’s fast

with those slave feet

fast enough to beat a speeding mal-intent militant bullet

cruising through your hood in cruisers

I can’t breathe

imagining him laid out

like a Law & Order: SVU scene

flashing on the TV screen

The grand jury content with no indictment

Look, I’m no Al Sharpton

but

Fred Hampton,

Rodney King, Emmett Till,

Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury,

Sean Bell, Bernard Bailey, Jahzeph Crooks, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner,

Akai Gurley, Oscar Grant III, Ernest Duenez, Christopher Middleton, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown,

my  father, my cousin, my brother

They all deserve better

than a supped up militarized Jim Crow task force

The truth is

they shoot dissenters and threats down like dominoes

it takes too long to turn on the hose

get the dogs

and lynching ropes I guess

Cops kill boys that look like me

all natural haired and sun baked skin

suspect or not

no one wants to die here

Why does your split decision always shatter his life like porcelain

dolls tap dance on bloodied pavement

that all the world’s perfumes cannot sweeten

They unload clips

We turn on each other with weapons

and the violence

spins this world on it’s axis

What if I have a son…

What if I came home and my husband…

 

 

 

Things Done Changed

Remember back in the days, when niggaz had waves
Gazelle shades and corn braids
Pitchin’ pennies, honies had the high top jellies
Shootin’ Skelly, motherfuckers was all friendly

Loungin’ at the barbecues, drinkin’ brews
With the neighborhood crews, hangin’ on the avenues
Turn your pagers to nineteen ninety three
Niggaz is gettin’ smoked G, believe me

Talk slick, you get your neck slit quick
‘Cause real street niggaz ain’t havin’ that shit
Totin’ techs for rep, smokin’ blunts in the project
Hallways, shootin’ dice all day

Wait for niggaz to step up on some fightin’ shit
We get hype and shit and start liftin’ shit
So step away with your fist fight ways
Motherfucker, this ain’t back in the days
But you don’t hear me though

No more cocoa leave io, one two three
One two three, all of this to me is a mystery
I hear you motherfuckers talk about it
But I stay seein’ bodies with the motherfuckin’ chalk around it

And I’m down with the shit too
For the stupid motherfuckers wanna try to use Kung-Fu
Instead of a Mac-10 he tried scrappin’
Slugs in his back and that’s what the fuck happens
When you sleep on the street

Little motherfuckers with heat want
To leave a nigga six feet deep
And we comin’ to the wake
To make sure the cryin’ and commotion
Ain’t a motherfuckin’ fake

Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us
Look at ’em now, they even fuckin’ scared of us
Callin’ the city for help because they can’t maintain
Damn, shit done changed

If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot

Shit, it’s hard being young from the slums
Eatin’ five cent gums, not knowin’ where your meals comin’ from
And now the shit’s gettin’ crazier and major
Kids younger than me, they got the Sky grand Pagers
Goin’ outta town, blowin’ up

Six months later all the dead bodies showin’ up
It make me wanna grab the nine and the shottie
But I gotta go identify the body

Damn, what happened to the summertime cookouts?
Every time I turn around, a nigga gettin’ took out
Shit, my momma got cancer in her breast
Don’t ask me why I’m motherfuckin’ stressed, things done changed

–Notorious B.I.G

The Pressures.

(Love twists

the young man. Having seen it

only once. He expected it

to be, as the orange flower

leather of the poet’s book.

He expected

less hurt, a lyric. And not

the slow effortless pain

as a new dripping sun pushes

up out of our river. )

And

having seen it, refuses

to inhale. “It was a

green mist, seemed

to lift and choke

the town.”

–Imamu Amiri Baraka

Knuckles and Knees: Part 1

My uncle, who is not really related to me, says that I shouldn’t have black knees. That no man wants a woman with black knees. I am confused by this, as I sit on the stoop listening to him laugh in his throat with another uncle of mine whom I am sure is not related to me. They seem to agree. One is a drug dealer. Overdue for his next bid and real estate man and property investor and owner of his own construction company. The other is notorious for his drinking binges and odd sightings around the neighborhood with packages of baby wipes that aren’t brand name. I say, but I am a black girl and I already have black knees. They continue to chuckle at me.

images (3)I am lost.

But I have black knees don’t I, I am black. You are brown. Women with black knees have scars from rubbing their knees on the ground. No one will want you if they look like that. He points to the other non-uncle’s skin, dark as charcoal. I am not charcoal, but I am brown. When did I become brown? Besides there’s other kinds of scars I’m talking about that you’re too young to know about. I am nine. You shouldn’t anyways, he says, and then swigs whatever it is he’s drinking. I played football a lot with the boys on the block, that’s why my knees are darker, and they know it already. I’m not talking about boys, he says, I mean men. Men like them?

When you get older men don’t want to deal with that kind of baggage. You all scarred and scuffed up from other dudes or games or whatever, and now he has to deal with your blackness. Wear stockings from now on or something, just trust me. By this point in the conversation Daddy has descended the stairs, and upon seeing the confusion in my little face, asks what we were talking about. Non-uncle number one, the lighter one, tells him. Daddy curses him out and punches him into the street. I wonder deeply. Why can’t women be dark and wanted, why can’t men deal with her scars? Daddy comes back to tell me that my uncle is not really my uncle at all and that he’s a sexist, nasty fool that I should never take advice from. My Daddy is a correctional officer at Rikers Island prison, he was an all-star running back in high school and a college drop out, he has made many mistakes but loves my mom and he loves me.

157d903a50054f232787527c5cd57da3He says that my legs are fine the way they are.

And if not, then find a man in life who likes scars, brownness, and the edges of blackness.  

 

Letter To My Son

I wrote this in High School, but I dedicate it to my Mom who’s having my little brother…

In case you didn’t know

You see me and make me feel warm

In a world so cold

Like me I guess

So all I can give you is my very best promise

That child these hands will hold you

Until the world stops spinning

Falls off its axis

In another life I was queen

And you will have to accept your destiny

Rule your land

Run your kingdom

Raise your kings and queens to feel compassion

And never regret your bold decisions

Trust them and no one will question

But son do not worry because we were soldiers

Fight with valiance

Only use defiance

When your heart will not allow you to follow direct commands

Fear is an option         Combat commands it of us

Be afraid of the capability of your own hands

Against another

Because you should always first and foremost love your brother

We were slaves

I remember the way you didn’t you didn’t cry when the boat rocked and I remember the way your hair smelled

You kept me from leaping

I was a teacher

You must learn to be a student

Respect me and I will respect you

My job is to harangue  preach  and give speeches

When I feel its necessary

Your job is to listen

Understanding is your greatest tool

And your mind is your greatest weapon

Because it is the only thing an enemy cannot destroy

And son if you remember nothing else

Remember you are descendant of artists

Poetry is your native tongue

And music heats your blood

You have the eyes to see the colors of the grotesque beauty of the world

Cherish who you are and what you can create

And I will always be here for you