Under the Skin

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Christine Mitchell)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Christine Mitchell)

I

We ink ourselves up
hoping to find someone
with a matching sign,
a homing signal for something
we have in common,
something that communes with us both.

We wear our hearts out
where our sleeves would go
so whoever’s trying to fathom them
doesn’t have to search so hard.
We want to be found,
and to find the jagged puzzle pieces
of their art that mesh with ours.

II

Our pigments are carrier pigeons,
and the messengers are losing syllabic feathers
with every oxidized breath stroke.

These are our heaviest metals,
pin-prick traumas to make memorials
of the worse ones we’ve somehow escaped
visibly unscarred. We pay to have them embossed,
exposed to show and tell our stories
like kindergarten picture books.
Maybe then they’ll finally understand.

III

I will prove my worth to you in ink,
in a name not signed by my own hand.

This will fade with time, as all things do.
But by it, you will always recognize my darkness
and the depths of my commitment.

The Haul

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Alex Saurel)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Alex Saurel)

I have committed genocide for your bellies.
I have done it countless times.
My body tally has ensnared billions,
and still, you demand more severed heads.

The viscous brown broth
that sloshes out of their holding cells
is the brew of all their heady fluids.
These have slowly left their carcasses,
then pooled and stewed for days.
It has taken me twenty years to realize this.

But draining and drinking this cocktail
will not give you their strength.
Their power is in the crack and peel of their skeletons,
the chewing and sliding of their endless meat.

And I am the worst kind of tyrant,
the one who slaughters some for money
and others for pleasure.
I’m the puppet of a weightier power –
more knowledgeable, more hard-headed, more calloused –
pulling every string into rope into net
to drag us all in whichever direction he prefers.

Maybe one day we’ll learn
if it was god who made man in his image,
or man who made a god out of his.

The Pup That Made Me Paternal

The Wee Baby Cappy, or Young Captain Alejandro (9 weeks old)
The Wee Baby Cappy, or Young Captain Alejandro (9 weeks old)

I

I’d never thought something could burrow
it’s way into my heart so quickly and deeply,
mostly because nothing before ever had.

On the 12-hour drive home after picking you
up from the pet store, you slept soundly in our laps,
yapping only when we’d left you alone,
kicking at whatever your young brain dreamt.

You were 9-weeks young and starved for companionship,
and I am a fool of a father who never had something
so fully dependent upon him for its survival.
You terrify me into being better.

II

My mother, walking out the front glass door
at the exact moment my brother’s runaway basketball
darts into the street. I give chase,
trying to catch it before it thumps a neighbor’s car alarm to life
and we have to escape inside for fear of being found out.

The neighbor’s daughter – who would go on to become
Miss Louisiana 2008 – is fresh from the DMV
with her laminate learner’s permit.
She rolls down our cracked street with zeal and pageant pride,
and sees a stray basketball bounce but a few feet in front
of her birthday sedan, with a 10-year-old child
hot on its rubber heels beneath a southern summer sun.

My mother bleats my name with such ferocious fear
that all I could do was freeze despite the heat,
yanked back by mental puppy scruff.
The ball’s dying arc comes only inches in front of her bumper
as the brakes gave off a curious burnt crisp.
All four of us just stop and stare for a beat,
feeling fortunate for the fates we’d all just somehow avoided.

III

That night your golden fluff let you wriggle out of your collar
and you immediately dashed toward the regularly-congested street,
I stood in awe for a few seconds, wondering how
this might have happened despite all our caution.

When the danger rushed back in,
you were halfway gone up the block,
gleeful tongue hanging out the side of your maw,
and I full-sprinted after like a tagged child
hoping to overtake you in what you thought was a new game.

You would have been dead had it not been for the hour.
And as I tripped you and scooped you up into my arms
and carried you all the way back home
with my hand holding firm on the back of your neck,
the only things I could think of were
my anger, my shame, my dodged sadness,
and the sudden understanding I now had of my mother.

Where Weeds Will Grow

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Professor Bop)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Professor Bop)

We’re weeds grown through concrete of broken streets.
We were never meant to survive.
Thrown into this abandoned section of the city
without much green around, we’ve learned to grow
the color in other ways. This did not turn out
how you thought it would, and you are
angered, unthreatened, impressed, and unsure all at once.

We’re weeds grown along endless stretches of highway.
We were never meant to survive.
Eaten and shat out again by the cherry-picking birds,
we’ve endured the intestines of your society
and have since moved on, closer to its arteries.
One day, you will weaken, and we will prick them, then invade –
escaping this land of longing and neglect.
You will have underestimated us again,
and you will not see this coming.

We’re weeds grown in woods, fighting for space among old trees.
We were never meant to survive.
We have ridden on the wind and are now the invasive species
in soil that should have always been ours.
But we’ve done more before with less,
and we will endure the winter
in spite of all your endless choking
and the basic nutrients you refuse to share.
We know how to move fast and unattached –
it’s those who stay too long where they don’t belong
whom grow slow and fat and put down roots too deep
before they realize it’s all just holding them back.

We’re weeds growing in your garden.
We were never meant to make it here.
But your beautiful daughter thought us a beautiful flower
and has replanted us right outside your back doorstep.
Oh yes, we’ve learned how to disguise ourselves;
the darkness of the forest was one hell of a tutor.
And now we grow and thrive right under your nose;
just our scent makes you sneeze uncontrollably.
We may try to reclaim further inward. We haven’t decided yet.
But it’s your fear that we might which feeds us today.

That, and knowing our hold over you
if you try to uproot us now:
We will take everything you love with us.
Our deaths are intertwined – they always have been –
but now you will feel it too
when one of ours is plucked from his land
and left to rot in the street, withering under the summer sun
that would always make him reach for the skies.

His Real Black Girl(s)

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Tatenda Nyamande)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Tatenda Nyamande)

 

He told me that I don’t date real black girls,
as if only his eyes’ gaze and licked lips mattered.
Tight dresses and wide hips swaying in the club
to old-school rap beats was how he imagined
every black girl should be,
would ever want to be.

I threatened his newest Jays at knifepoint
to make him feel the slice of his own words,
to threaten something that he loved just as much.
His bravado shrunk three sizes that day –
took him a week to grow it back enough
to fit into the mouth of those shoes once again.

I realized then how much all his talk was just
hot air breathed onto the back of some stripper’s neck,
mumbling affections he’d never pronounce clearly at closing time
when the harsh and honest lights were switched back on.

He was still recovering from the actual black woman
whom had outsmarted and outsexed him,
left him standing alone again without her south
to warm him in the bite of the Yankee winter.
She’d peeled his thick coat of masculinity
right off his prone back, and he watched
wide-eyed as she dropped his heart
in boredom and barefoot walked away
as it slowly began to stain the snow.

The Family Griot Recounts, Prophesizes

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Anek Suwannaphoom)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Anek Suwannaphoom)

We were born with brine in our blood—
sons of sailors and fathers of fishers
who knew how to pull rocks from sea floors
and turn them into gold.

Children, your name carries the depth of oceans,
the weight of a world’s waters.

You were royalty once, before
the title got lost in the crossing
and the new country refused to honor it,
though it survived as your hushed, middle name.

You were religious once, before
the pope cut out your tongue
for your lack of loyalty and refusal
to send your strongest men and
your thickest coin to wage a war
you saw no purpose, or holiness, in fighting.

You were pirates once, before
the regime grew envious of your profits,
your fort-thought-castle, and
your strategic location between river and sea –
when they wanted to suddenly start selling and taxing
everything you’d been smuggling for generations.

Children, you will learn to walk on land,
to abandon those fickle waters
that have betrayed you time and time again.
But you will always carry the salt of the sea in your heart.
It will keep you strong when they come for you again,
and because of it, their wounds will sting of your memory.

They Will Think My Children Are Adopted

(Photo Credit: Flickr / SaraTraore)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / SaraTraore)

They will sneak glances at us from afar in some small-town café.
I’ll be sipping my recently topped-up coffee with cream,
hand my son the waitress-given, tri-pack of primary colors,
and teach him how blue and yellow mix
so he can make green monsters in his coloring book.

My daughter will be only a few feet away,
practicing her pirouettes in an outfit she had
picked out all by herself that morning –
mashing unlike patterns and prints together
with clashing shades, and not giving
a damn in the world what anyone else thought about it.

The onlookers will not know what to do with our spectacle:
Two relatively well-behaved children
and their affectionate father who look nothing alike.
They will think my children are adopted
because the little ones will always keep the brown
lipstick stain of the sun’s kisses on their skin.

Because their mother’s genes are more resilient,
always have been, always had to be,
and they will have won this battle twice,
rendering all my expressions recessive
except for their eyes –
the rare and beautiful blue-green gems
that will wield so much unplanned power
in their heartbreak warfare – their traces
reminding me of my contribution to the great battle.

But the spectators will be too curious not to ask,
and when they work up enough nerve to stutter the question,
I will answer that, yes, it’s amazing
that these two beautiful ones are, in fact,
the fruit of my loins and my wife’s womb.
Their hair will be more wild when their mother
is away on work, and the shaky old ladies
will quietly judge me for not doing better.

***

By the time they are in high school
they will have outgrown the more adorable
stage when people are less judgmental.

The girls will not understand my boy –
sensitive and artistic, enjoying art class
more than gym time, being enigmatic with his desires
and their mixed emotions.

The boys will think they understand my girl,
flighty, flirty, and fit from years of dance study,
cat-calling as she flits by, labeling her
as exotic and increasing her (bagged) value
because what she is is hard to identify.

They will have a rough time fitting in wherever they go,
rarely puzzle-piecing into a social group
pre-constructed from previous norms.
They will be treated as outsiders
for the way they talk, act, think,
move, question, assert, even exist.

They will be hybrid. They will cause confusion
everywhere they walk, and I will boast proudly
of the change they leave in their wakes.

Because if evolution has taught us anything,
it’s that the cross-breeds are hardier.
They come pre-packaged with tougher skin,
and are better able to adapt and survive
in a harsh world still filled with blood silos
thrashing and grasping viciously to hold on
to what once belonged to their children.

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau

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