i. the old marrieds
But why the moon rose so cruelly, neither of them would say.
Though a listless jazz buzzed obediently beneath their day,
and he had seen the hand-in-hands dotting the dim streets.
And she had heard the morning skillet scorch its Mississippi sweets,
its globs of fat. Now, time to be closer — here, on the verge of May.
But why the moon drooped so cruelly, neither ventured to say.
ii. kitchenette building
We are soft-caged behind streaked windows, our someday plans
grayed and siphoned flat. “Faith” is simply a church sound, not strong
like “factory,” “scrubbing the chitlins,” or “keeping that man.”
But could faith be a blatant gold blasting through dinner’s fatty fumes,
its perfumed lure tangling with the smell of twice-fried potatoes
and twist-tied bags of reeking rubbish lining the dark hall?
Fluttering beneath florescent sputter, could faith warm our rooms,
even the walls scrubbed raw with Baptist chill? If we let faith in,
had the mind to carve it a space, keep it Sunday clean,
anticipate its slow glories, beg it to begin?
We can’t spare the time faith needs. We don’t have that minute.
Since silly wants like hot water require we be practical now,
we wait and wait on the bathroom, hope the warm stays in it.
iii. the mother
Murders will not let you forget.
You remember the children you had — suddenly quarry, target —
the daughters with gunfire smoldering circles in their napped hair,
the absent sons whose screams still ride the air.
You knew the ways of bullets, prayed your child run, outrun, beat
them in their race toward the heart of your baby, your sweet.
You imagine another child cocking the hammer with his thumb,
or blazing the blade forward, harkening the dark that will overcome
you. Never again will you look at a bright, upturned face and sigh,
returning again and again to drown your baby in the mama-eye.
I hear on Kilbourn, on Christiana, the not-there of my children.
I have pushed them flail and wriggle from my tired body, eased
my babies into a world of growl and gun. The breath-suck,
I wailed and prayed, my loves, as rougher mothers seized
you. Now I am newly barren, drained of mother luck,
and you are suddenly far beyond my futile reach.
If I let these frantic streets deny the tender in your names,
if I relinquished you to this city and its unrelenting games,
your end is all I own. If I dared let others govern your deaths,
if I wasn’t there to mourn your final blurring breaths,
believe that my loss of you to this was not deliberate.
Though I have no right to whine,
whine that none of the blame was mine,
since, in every world I’m rooted in, you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
you are so much a hollow of the children I made.
But now you are scar on the pavement. I am afraid —
is that the you there is now, how the story of you will be said?
You were born — a gunshot, a swift blade — then you died.
It’s too much this way — even the child who killed you cried.
Believe. I loved you all.
Be. Leave me the sounds of still-thudding hearts. I grieve you
iv. a song in the back yard
I’ve wallowed in the back yard all my life.
I want to slide ’round front
Where it’s gold-splashed and guarded and spined fragrance grows.
A girl gets a craving for rose.
I want to go in the front yard now
and far away from these nappy weeds — this alley
too. I wanna see where the well-off children play.
I want some proper fun today.
They do some miracle things.
They have that secret kinda fun.
My daddy says They’re uppity, but I think it’s fine
how they’re tucked in their beds by a quarter to nine.
My mama, with her country ways, try as she may,
will never turn me into a weeds and wildflowers woman,
that’s a fact. I only stay up late
on account of all her party folk flooding our back gate.
But that’s OK. I think front yard folk are perfect. Really, I do.
And I’m gonna be a righteous woman, too.
And wear a soft cardigan, cashmere trimmed in lace.
And stroll ’round all of Lawndale with this righteous on my face.