I am in New York and New Jersey This Week!
Tuesday, April 23rd Urbana Poetry Slam NYC
Wednesday, April 24th Loser Slam New Jersey
Friday, April 26th Nuyurican Poetry
In 5th grade
fueled by a lyric from Salt N Pepa’s hit song “What a Man”
and an early onset mistrust of men
(likely caused in part by being allowed to watch Ricki Lake everyday after school)
I fashioned a mistress for my sweet natured stepfather
and named her Susan.
When he was late coming home from work
When he forgot something at the store and had to go back out
When he held up the opening of Christmas presents
by taking much longer in the bathroom than seemed humanly reasonable
he had to be on the phone with that Goddamn, no good, homewrecking
My friend Lauren suggests that we name the things that scare us.
Susan translates into I Love You
something that took me nearly 20 years to say out loud
because I wanted to make sure he would stay.
In Texas there is a woman who let despair eat her whole house,
built a mausoleum of dime store romance novels
on her late husband’s side of the bed they shared for 30 years
that had to be dismantled by strangers with snow shovels
after the neighbors complained about the smell of sorrow
wafting from the house in a high wind-
the way it lowered their property values.
“How did she let it get so bad?”,
the widow stands on her porch
wearing an apologetic smile
dumpster after dumpster filled with her bones
and hauled off.
Halfway through this cleanup,
under a pile of paperback harlot heaving bosoms
they found a mummified copperhead snake.
The widows until now estranged daughter holds it out in quaking hands
saying, “Mom, do you understand, this could have killed you.”
The widow only nods
smiles a different smile now
a softer smile now
a knowing wish of a smile now.
They don’t notice sometimes
until we are bursting at the seams
until we are a neighborhood blight
an impending foreclosure
a bloated corpse.
You would have loved me then
in the untamed days
in my purple hair and elephant bells
afraid of my own breasts
and little else.
Our first date
lifting a flat blue bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 from the corner store
in the enormous back pocket of your skater jeans
and drinking it under a cloud of graffiti in the abandoned racquetball courts in Westgate park
and reward each other’s toughness for holding back the cough and shudder of malt liquor kickback
with bursts of long hard kisses and secrets bitten into necks.
We skip Mrs Bennett’s 9th grade Biology class to trade virginities in your mother’s two job unchaperoned house. We smoke pot and stare at plastic glow in the dark stars on your ceiling
plastic sheen in daylight until the windows darken and they smile back.
We will celebrate at a basement party in a boys house
whose mother punched her maternal time card the day he turned 18
by moving a man with a rent check into the 2nd bedroom and the absence she left on her way to Nevada to begin her life.
We glow like those sun heavy plastic stars
and not let go of one another’s hand even when Joey Williams proves himself a lightweight
and vomits a still intact handful of cheese puffs onto the screen door
after only 3 Mike’s hard lemonades.
We are drunk and safe on the folly of youth.
We are still a pair of soft hands here.
We met instead in the years the hard lessons came to collect.
Where I am alone a calloused fist, God fearing, and begging you not to make a joke of me.
You have only just earned your knee caps like medals
and cannot possibly give them up to me so soon,
and I understand this.
After a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas
The local news in Columbus, OH went and interviewed a farmer living near the Scotts Chemical Plant in Marysville just an hour or so away.
They asked him if in light of this recent tragedy he was scared to live so close to the Scotts Plant
and he said, “Well sure, but what are you gonna do move away from everything that you’re ever scared of?”
And I understand this too.
I am 16 years old at party full of rebel yell and pabst blue ribbon
(when it was still Grandfather beer)
there is a boy sliding his hand up my thigh
with a smile dangling from his bottom lip like a lit cigarette
he tells me I am “the prettiest half breed he’s ever seen”
and presses into me for a kiss.
The facts are these:
I do not yet understand that passing is not always something you try to do
but is done just the same
I am the daughter of Ralph Ellison’s invisible man
and a pink cheeked small town in southern Ohio
My spine made up of the railroads tracks still separating the races there.
Barely hour before his move on me
against the back drop of his cheering friends this boy loudly refused
to play any of that “nigger music”
and before his throat could kick the chair fromm under the R
I flash my heritage like a badge and confiscate that word for the night
threatening to show him how black I could be if he said it again.
I am too young and privileged to be aware of the safety my skin tone buys me in this move
or the fact that right now he is not calling me pretty
he is calling me “close enough”.
And now lets consider the 14 years I spent pretending I didn’t let him kiss me anyway.