Category Archive: Poetry

Please, Hammer, don’t hurt em

April Poem a Day continues

For today’s prompt, write a big picture poem. I know these can be difficult to write, because they cover big ideas or emotions or concepts.

Mississippi Sunday, 1990

When his hand grabbed theirs,
they in shock of the contrast crossed
into the church that they and their parents
and their grandparents and neighbors
had never thought to see until he pressed
them into cushioned seats, two brown boys,
their backs facing emptying pews,
as mothers and children went to wait in the car
and fathers and deacons erased the air
around the preacher as they pointed
trembling fingers at their faces,
dark and wet with fear.

 

That poem is based on a story from my friend’s childhood. Seems like churches should be the least segregated places. I’d love to talk to the boys who this happened to and hear about their memories of this day.

2

PAD 12, 13, & 14

Just got back from a work trip to Jackson. Here are the three latest poems I know you’ve been waiting for. I’m putting them in order of my fav:

4.13

For today’s prompt, write a poem that remembers an old relationship. This relationship does not have to be romantic.

Untitled

A fly
with its wings
against the tape
can move
just not
anywhere
it wants
to be.

Continue Reading »

Ode to a Glass Slipper

Step softly in the grass, light one.
The pebbles and dips in the sidewalk could scuff your heels
and cloud the transparent shine of your stride.

Deliberate and moderate, the best choice when you can’t stay where you are,
a little cinder girl, sweeping up someone else’s messes and claiming them for your own.

* Appeared in Edgz 17. (2010): 66.

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Self portrait at 22

Self Portrait at 22

Because someone had a dream, I am standing here
watching large blue, green, and light brown eyes ask
what I know, who I am, if I’m related to Mrs. Mae,
and where from the Delta I come,
or not. Those are my questions, not theirs,
they ask me if they can start sentences with because
because someone once told them it was improper
like drinking on Sunday, wearing a hat indoors, and saying no and yes without the ma’am.

They ma’am me, call me Mrs.
though I wear no ring,
still have my father’s name
which they say they haven’t heard before
at least not spelled the way I do.

They imagine that when they’re my age, four or five years from now,
they’ll know more than me and the people that sent them here.
They’ll already have children
who won’t be as spoiled as my dog.
They think they won’t be lonely,
won’t regret, won’t remember 18, drunk and pretty,
carried around, grinning as people sneak up and touch their hair.

Today, for the first time, I looked in the mirror and saw myself
looking twenty-something. Black moles cropping up and dimples deepening.
Eyes yellowing. Teeth need bleaching. I pulled my skin tight, but it didn’t move.
I felt the roughness of my cheeks, saw skin flaking on my chin and brow.
I’ve got to start wearing sunscreen, and maybe a bra, and yes, bug spray.
I’ve got to start meaning something,
having something to report,
doing more than watch the sun pass and the moon rise.

Four years ago, I knew everything important—
dances, beauty pageants, newspaper, choir, drama,
and everyone knew me when we actually knew nothing
that couldn’t be fixed with a rumor or a new shirt
that’s now resting at the Salvation Army
since I’ve lost weight it seems but gained it too or something.
It’s all too tight or too short to be caught wearing now,
though I could if I wanted, hold on.
I’m still skinny, still carded, still saying ma’am and sir.

Still got some ways to go, some say,
maybe backwards while I go ahead.
I could cut my hair again, buy a ponytail,
paint my nails black, shave everything,
and wear shoes with cutting straps that raise me above this podium.
I can carry Band-Aids for blisters,
take pills for everything else,
but I know too much to try
or do more than sigh closed-mouth, air escaping
and puffing my lips.

I think about braces or veneers,
dream about dresses, wondering if I’m too young to get rid of these glasses.
Changing is so easy now, Lasik, just a beam of light, and it’s all fixed.

Then I could read the paper and see clearly, recognize the names
of former classmates, friends, enemies,
either jailed, shot, dead, married, mothered, divorced, drowned, bombed,
moved, or divided, and me
standing straight, trying to write
in a straight line across the board.

* Appeared in Bayou 53. (2010): 52-53.

Landfall

So what I thought was a used book I had ordered through Amazon, turned out to be my two copies of Chautauqua (http://writers.ciweb.org/literary-journal/) that featured my poem Landfall, otherwise known as one of my Katrina poems.

 

It was a pleasant surprise after a long week of work to remember I am more than just this current time in my life.

 

Landfall

 

 

I.

Too small to know myself,
I skipped over imaginary hopscotch lines
drawn with my fingertips across Old Mama’s floor.

 

I tried to sing “Miss Mary Mack” to the click of the peas dropping in the silver pan,
but she shelled faster than my tongue could spit the rhymes
till the bolt jumped from the field to the sky and froze my leg up in an L.

 

“Hush up quick, chile.
Ain’t nothing but a summer storm.
Move on under the table now. God don’t give us no more than we can handle.”

 

I sat church-still listening to her hum “Sweet Hour of Prayer”
as the peas echoed the rain on the roof.

 

II.

I knew the Coast once—
the smell of the fish,
the summer sea warming till the clouds swelled
and lightning jumped from water to sky.
I believed that’s how the Coast would always be,
sculpted, illuminated, grainy, familiar through the seasons.
I thought of strapping myself to a tree, becoming immortal through weathering,
a new legend like Walter Anderson in that skiff
sheltering his canvas under his shirt.

 

I wrote a song once
about a storm where a girl died
or lived always thinking of death and thought life was a floating mattress.
And I sang this song to the ocean until she answered back,
bade me to understand her and what’s lost
among the soft, gritty deep that seeped between my toes,
as I waded in, calf deep.
The waves played percussion against my knees,
and I learned her song, wrote it in the sand with a shell,
tossed the shell back, watched it skip once, twice.

 

III.

I heard East Beach is gone.
They say those houses are open coffins.
Highway 90 is the new yacht club.
I heard that Nawlins ain’t nothing more than a bowl of saline and sewage.
And I heard Cowan imploded, all those businesses raw open…
But that’s not as bad as Debuys, where only a wall of Anniston Elementary still stands.
They had those people crowded up in there on cots, thinking they were safe
and had to move them out while Katrina was still pushing in.

 

The stories that keep coming by phone are worse than I want to believe.
My childhood garden now a playground for seaweed,
hanging upside down from the monkey bars,
daring me to do better.

 

IV.

It didn’t rain when Old Mama died,
and I didn’t cry or think to grieve.
I knew what waited for me—
a life linked together by storms and songs.

 

And I want to remember this:
It can’t all be gone.
Winn Dixie is opening tomorrow.
Mr. B’s got lights, got internet, got everything but clean water.
And water is coming, bottled, clean, and salt free.
And I didn’t have to swim.
And I didn’t go under.

 

And I wait for the ring of the phone
to hear what’s gone, what’s there,
what moved across the street
so I can get ready to never see it again.

 

You heard anything about the Bay?

 

Anything about Pass Christian?

 

Ain’t that where the eye landed, fell,
Shut, winked, blew,
and laid down in our bedrooms?

 

V.

Hush now, it’s time to stop that noise.
Girl, you know, the business of business is business,
And the business of people is dying.
We’re all nothing but bodies,
floating or walking,
singing or hopping,
humming or hoping.
It ain’t nothing but a summer story told by the whining pines,
bowing to pass the secret.
Light a candle. Put down that phone. It’s getting dark now.
Let me tell you about that time when there was still a beach over there,
and the ocean had a song worth singing.

Sociology

Sociology

 

“I know what every colored woman in this country is doing…Dying. Just like me.”
Sula, Toni Morrison, 1973

 

For Sheena Gardner

Odds say that because she knew her father
and since he gave his name to her mother,
and they lived in a house they owned
and drove separate cars with paid notes
before she was born, and he was there holding her hand,
and she weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces,
was not born early, and they dressed her in new clothes,
fed her Enfamil, then Gerber mashed and strained
before they made her eat whole carrots and peas,
drove her to piano lessons every Thursday at 4:00,
read her 20 pages of Beverly Cleary every night at 7:30
until she was eight, and then she read Judy Blume to herself
falling asleep with the light on,

 

and because she did her homework without prompting,
had permed her hair straight every six weeks in a shop,
got braces tightened, sang in the choir, played in the band,
tested well, went to college where she spent weekends
watching TV and prepping for the next round,
learned un peu francais, saw some of the world,
Québec, Dublin, Calais, Munich, Glasgow,
went to school again, longer this time—six years,
lived alone, was glad for the comps because they gave her purpose,
passed, taught, wrote, walked across that stage,
weighed down in regalia, shook hands,
and because of all these things the odds say
she should learn that she doesn’t need a husband or a father for her children
who could never know a childhood like she did
because she learned too much and left the men behind
with their football dreams and blue collared jobs,
so she shouldn’t have children or even bother dating
because no black man wants to be kept,
and with all she has, she can’t help but condescend,
flashing her degrees, her proper speech, her knowledge, her fault,

 

and they say she should spend holidays with the girlfriends
who she once sipped cheap cappuccinos with
on springtime Saturday nights
dressed up for each other in low-cut blouses,

 

as they would walk, arms linked into dark theatres,
pretending loneliness didn’t burrow like trichina,
and now, only older, they should meet and warm by the fire,
a brown, educated cluster sitting among the flashing lights of red and green
and metallic wrapped boxes and store-bought shortbread cookies,
admiring how well they all can wear yellow and pink
woven into cashmere sweaters and not be washed out,
and how they can spend this money on themselves without men or children
to drain them, and  how they should make plans for next Christmas, New Years, and Easter,
while showing each other the necklaces and bracelets they bought
for their sacred necks and their thin wrists, and afterward
she should drive herself to church to share the pews with other women,
wearing white hats, talking about the lack of good black men
who, want nothing of their bitter, growing sorority,
and led by the preacher, they should ask Jesus for strength
as they recite “This is my body which is broken for you.”



** Appeared in Issue #156: Summer 2006 of the Cimarron Review (http://cimarronreview.okstate.edu/Issue156.html)


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