Speak

Black women’s faces are so expressive because we have

always been perceived to be in the position of servants

meant to bow politely

and with aggressive humility

enjoy giving service to the man or woman above us

She’s not sassy because she wants to be

but because she has to be.

Because the sheer absurdity of other people’s realities encroaching on her ability to live freely necessitates comment even if she is not allowed to speak.

–A. Long

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Among Women

What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.

 

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

 

She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
Women wander
As best they can.
–Marie Ponsot

The Looking Glass

NEW YEAR’S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a young and pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was sitting in her room, gazing with exhausted, half-closed eyes into the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as motionless as the looking-glass.

The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with endless rows of candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of the frame — all this was already clouded in mist and merged into a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating, gleaming and now and then flaring crimson. . . .

Looking at Nellie’s motionless eyes and parted lips, one could hardly say whether she was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she was seeing. At first she saw only the smile and soft, charming expression of someone’s eyes, then against the shifting grey background there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face, eyebrows, beard. It was he, the destined one, the object of long dreams and hopes. The destined one was for Nellie everything, the significance of life, personal happiness, career, fate. Outside him, as on the grey background of the looking-glass, all was dark, empty, meaningless. And so it was not strange that, seeing before her a handsome, gently smiling face, she was conscious of bliss, of an unutterably sweet dream that could not be expressed in speech or on paper. Then she heard his voice, saw herself living under the same roof with him, her life merged into his. Months and years flew by against the grey background. And Nellie saw her future distinctly in all its details.

Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie saw herself one winter night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch, the district doctor. The old dog hoarsely and lazily barked behind the gate. The doctor’s windows were in darkness. All was silence.

“For God’s sake, for God’s sake!” whispered Nellie.

But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor’s cook.

“Is the doctor at home?”

“His honour’s asleep,” whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though afraid of waking her master.

“He’s only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders he was not to be waked.”

But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed headlong into the doctor’s house. Running through some dark and stuffy rooms, upsetting two or three chairs, she at last reached the doctor’s bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on his bed, dressed, but without his coat, and with pouting lips was breathing into his open hand. A little night-light glimmered faintly beside him. Without uttering a word Nellie sat down and began to cry. She wept bitterly, shaking all over.

“My husband is ill!” she sobbed out. Stepan Lukitch was silent. He slowly sat up, propped his head on his hand, and looked at his visitor with fixed, sleepy eyes. “My husband is ill!” Nellie continued, restraining her sobs. “For mercy’s sake come quickly. Make haste. . . . Make haste!”

“Eh?” growled the doctor, blowing into his hand.

“Come! Come this very minute! Or . . . it’s terrible to think! For mercy’s sake!”

And pale, exhausted Nellie, gasping and swallowing her tears, began describing to the doctor her husband’s illness, her unutterable terror. Her sufferings would have touched the heart of a stone, but the doctor looked at her, blew into his open hand, and — not a movement.

“I’ll come to-morrow!” he muttered.

“That’s impossible!” cried Nellie. “I know my husband has typhus! At once . . . this very minute you are needed!”

“I . . . er . . . have only just come in,” muttered the doctor. “For the last three days I’ve been away, seeing typhus patients, and I’m exhausted and ill myself. . . . I simply can’t! Absolutely! I’ve caught it myself! There!”

And the doctor thrust before her eyes a clinical thermometer.

“My temperature is nearly forty. . . . I absolutely can’t. I can scarcely sit up. Excuse me. I’ll lie down. . . .”

The doctor lay down.

“But I implore you, doctor,” Nellie moaned in despair. “I beseech you! Help me, for mercy’s sake! Make a great effort and come! I will repay you, doctor!”

“Oh, dear! . . . Why, I have told you already. Ah!”

Nellie leapt up and walked nervously up and down the bedroom. She longed to explain to the doctor, to bring him to reason. . . . She thought if only he knew how dear her husband was to her and how unhappy she was, he would forget his exhaustion and his illness. But how could she be eloquent enough?

“Go to the Zemstvo doctor,” she heard Stepan Lukitch’s voice.

“That’s impossible! He lives more than twenty miles from here, and time is precious. And the horses can’t stand it. It is thirty miles from us to you, and as much from here to the Zemstvo doctor. No, it’s impossible! Come along, Stepan Lukitch. I ask of you an heroic deed. Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!”

“It’s beyond everything. . . . I’m in a fever. . . my head’s in a whirl . . . and she won’t understand! Leave me alone!”

“But you are in duty bound to come! You cannot refuse to come! It’s egoism! A man is bound to sacrifice his life for his neighbour, and you. . . you refuse to come! I will summon you before the Court.”

Nellie felt that she was uttering a false and undeserved insult, but for her husband’s sake she was capable of forgetting logic, tact, sympathy for others. . . . In reply to her threats, the doctor greedily gulped a glass of cold water. Nellie fell to entreating and imploring like the very lowest beggar. . . . At last the doctor gave way. He slowly got up, puffing and panting, looking for his coat.

“Here it is!” cried Nellie, helping him. “Let me put it on to you. Come along! I will repay you. . . . All my life I shall be grateful to you. . . .”

But what agony! After putting on his coat the doctor lay down again. Nellie got him up and dragged him to the hall. Then there was an agonizing to-do over his goloshes, his overcoat. . . . His cap was lost. . . . But at last Nellie was in the carriage with the doctor. Now they had only to drive thirty miles and her husband would have a doctor’s help. The earth was wrapped in darkness. One could not see one’s hand before one’s face. . . . A cold winter wind was blowing. There were frozen lumps under their wheels. The coachman was continually stopping and wondering which road to take.

Nellie and the doctor sat silent all the way. It was fearfully jolting, but they felt neither the cold nor the jolts.

“Get on, get on!” Nellie implored the driver.

At five in the morning the exhausted horses drove into the yard. Nellie saw the familiar gates, the well with the crane, the long row of stables and barns. At last she was at home.

“Wait a moment, I will be back directly,” she said to Stepan Lukitch, making him sit down on the sofa in the dining-room. “Sit still and wait a little, and I’ll see how he is going on.”

On her return from her husband, Nellie found the doctor lying down. He was lying on the sofa and muttering.

“Doctor, please! . . . doctor!”

“Eh? Ask Domna!” muttered Stepan Lukitch.

“What?”

“They said at the meeting . . . Vlassov said . . . Who? . . . what?”

And to her horror Nellie saw that the doctor was as delirious as her husband. What was to be done?

“I must go for the Zemstvo doctor,” she decided.

Then again there followed darkness, a cutting cold wind, lumps of frozen earth. She was suffering in body and in soul, and delusive nature has no arts, no deceptions to compensate these sufferings. . . .

Then she saw against the grey background how her husband every spring was in straits for money to pay the interest for the mortgage to the bank. He could not sleep, she could not sleep, and both racked their brains till their heads ached, thinking how to avoid being visited by the clerk of the Court.

She saw her children: the everlasting apprehension of colds, scarlet fever, diphtheria, bad marks at school, separation. Out of a brood of five or six one was sure to die.

The grey background was not untouched by death. That might well be. A husband and wife cannot die simultaneously. Whatever happened one must bury the other. And Nellie saw her husband dying. This terrible event presented itself to her in every detail. She saw the coffin, the candles, the deacon, and even the footmarks in the hall made by the undertaker.

“Why is it, what is it for?” she asked, looking blankly at her husband’s face.

And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to this.

Something fell from Nellie’s hand and knocked on the floor. She started, jumped up, and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she saw lying at her feet. The other was standing as before on the table.

She looked into the looking-glass and saw a pale, tear-stained face. There was no grey background now.

“I must have fallen asleep,” she thought with a sigh of relief.

 

–By Anton Chekhov

I Just Can’t

The cratered wrinkles have set deep under my eyes

they can’t disguise

this new found insecurity I have with beauty

I just can’t

glare at the mirror staring back

anticipating what you see

except my reflection

flat and imperfect is trapped in the glass

I just can’t 

there are earthquakes beneath my fingertips

why would you entrust your heart 

to someone whose hands shake

I’m trying my best to hold still for you

 

 

Hunk of Rock

Nina was the hardest of them
all,
the worst woman I had known
up to that moment
and I was sitting in front of
my secondhand black and white
tv
watching the news
when I heard a suspicious
sound in the kitchen
and I ran in there
and saw her with
a full bottle of whiskey –
a 5th –
and she had it and
was headed for the back porch
door
but I caughter her and
grabbed the bottle.
“give me that bottle, you
fucking whore!”
and we wrestled for the
bottle
and let me tell you
she gave me a good fight
for it
but
I got it away from her
and I told her to
get her ass out of
there.
she lived in the same place
in the back
upstairs.

I locked the door
took the bottle and a
glass
went out to the couch
sat down and
opened the bottle and
poured myself a good
one.

I shut off the TV and
sat there
thinking about what a
hard number
Nina was.
I came up with
at least
a dozen lousy things
she had done
to me.

what a whore.
what a hunk of rock.

I sat there drinking
the whiskey
and wondering
what I was doing
with Nina.

then there was a
knock on the
door.
it was Nina’s friend,
Helga.

“where’s Nina?”
she asked.

“she tried to steal
my whiskey, I
ran her ass
out of here.”

“she said to meet
her here.”

“what for?”

“she said me and her
were going to do it
in front of you
for $50.”

“$25”

“well, she’s not
here… want a
drink?”

“sure…”

I got Helga a glass
poured her a
whiskey.
she took a
hit.

“maybe,” she said,
“I ought to go get
Nina.”

“I don’t want to see
her.”

“why not?”

“she’s a whore.”

Helga finished her
drink and I poured
her another.
she took a
hit.

“Benny calls me a
whore, I’m no
whore.”

Benny was the guy
she was shacked
with.

“I know you’re no
whore, Helga.”

“thanks. Ain’t ya got no
music?”

“just the radio…”

she saw it
got up
turned it
on.
some music came
blaring out.

Helga began to
dance
holding
her whiskey
glass in one
hand.
she wasn’t a good
dancer
she looked
rediculous.

she stopped
drained her drink
roller her glass along the
rug
then ran toward
me
dropped to her knees
unzipped me
and then
she was down
there
doing tricks.

I drained my
drink
poured another.

she was
good.
she had a college
degree
some place back
East.

“get it, Helga, get
it!”

there was a loud
knock
on the front
door.

“HANK, IS HELGA
THERE?”

“WHO?”

“HELGA!”

“JUST A MINUTE!”

“THIS IS NINA, I WAS
SUPPOSED TO MEET
HELGA HERE, WE HAVE A
LITTLE SURPRISE FOR
YOU!”

“YOU TRIED TO STEA
MY WHISKEY, YOU
WHORE!”

“HANK, LET ME
IN!”

“get it, Helga, get
it!”

“HANK!”

“Helga, you fucking whore…
Helga, Helga, Helga!!”

I pulled away and
got up.

“let her in.”

I went to the
bathroom.

when I came out they
were both sitting there
drinking and smoking
laughing about
something.
then they
saw me.

“50 bucks,” said Nina.

“25 bucks,” I said.

“we won’t do it
then.”

“don’t then.”

Nina inhaled
exhaled.
“all right, you
cheap bastard, 25
bucks!”

Nina stood up and
began taking her
clothes off.

she was the hardest
of them
all.

Helga stood up and
began taking her
clothes off.

I poured a
drink.
“sometimes I wonder
what the hell is
going on
around here,” I
said.

“don’t worry about
it, Daddy, just
get with it.”

“just what am i
supposed to
do?”

“just do
whatever the fuck
you feel
like doing,”
said Nina
her big ass
blazing
in the
lamplight.

–Charles Bukowski

The Floor

knees search for the carpet

amidst the tornado from the bed to the couch

we hit it hard

the mouth moves

the thigh sways

swimming in each other

until the door creaks open

The Rose

Have you ever loved a rose,

and watched her slowly bloom;

and as her petals would unfold,

you grew drunk on her perfume.

Have you seen her dance,

her leaves all wet with dew;

and quivered with a new romance–

the wind, he loved her too.

Have you ever longer for her,

on nights that go on and on;

for now, her face is all a blur,

like a memory kept too long.

Have you ever loved a rose,

and bled against her thorns;

and swear each night to let her go,

then love her more by dawn.

–Lang Leav

To Nina Simone

I am a

black woman

my parents migrated from Paris

i speak  three languages

i struggle everyday to raise my children

braid hair, day in and out

They call me Mama

I am a

turkish woman

in Germany, i want to pass on my customs

there are others like me

pushed into neighborhoods while our foods feed their stomachs

sometimes

They call me Outcast

I am

pakistani

i came to america a woman

praying on my knees to keep my sons free

my youngest shouts of foot baller dreams

i’ll go home one day and he’ll be there

They call me Hopeful

I am a

woman

i spend nights on the underside of the italian rivera

my smile is ethereal

no matter where i rome

They call me Real Sweet

 

Big Gold Earrings

1989

Dark brown braided down to

there

mini skirt and tank

hot pink converses

and these huge gold hoop earrings

Lived to party, high

never stayed home

always on the roam with her crew

spiked up

no care

Duran Duran and Slick Rick on blast

blowin through her stash

electric, eclectic

gold door knocker

1-earring

Well, they went out of style and she settled down tired of being a child. Now she sits back and reminisces of days long since past from her mists. Those hoops aren’t retired just yet

She still pulls’em out and takes’em

for a ride

inside

she’ll always be wild