Black and Blue
For Wanda Coleman
Out of Africa and into slavery came a spirit feral as a jackal
with a history as sad as all men are sometimes.
And with a ribbon of emotions to sing and cry
as though their souls had always known the blues.
Sold into cotton fields and herded into pens like cattle.
A tragedy that made the future a course of myriad obstacles to overcome.
Black spirits that were already familiar with the blues.
Don’t come near me
I’m a barefoot backdoor black boy of twelve and a half
with a scar on my toe from playing kick the can.
I’m a Nigerian official with a high-school degree.
I’m a pregnant teen with a kid on my knee so don’t come near me.
I’m a shoeshine cotton-mouth girl who stares from her corner
to mentally condemn this crooked creation white people call the world.
Hell’s bells and pass the mustard greens
for my momma was raised in the racist south.
And she would say shut your mouth
lest you offend some thin-skinned bigot with a long-arm sway
who will beat you with his night-stick until your black and blue.
Don’t fidget with the widget it fits quite well
say those in charge of the timecards and the company store.
It is a long climb down from the nexus of hypocrisy
for those raised on the bias pork and beans of Bedford Forrest
and the Aryan lies of George Wallace.
I still cringe at the ignorance when I hear people insinuate
that the lighter the skin the larger the brain.
Hell’s bells and pass the corn-bread please.
I grew up not believing people I didn’t trust.
For any race that isn’t fair will cause everyone to lose.
As the edge of early darkness creeps into my mind
Roman Candles kiss the hands of angry Christmas children.
I step out of the shadows and offer them candy
and half my heart to let me be like them.
They turn their sparkling rockets my way and mockingly ask:
“Which one of us? Which one of us?”
There are shouts outside my window and children cursing like angry adults.
A giggle and a harsh laugh rang out hollowly. (time passes)
Above the music the mufflers become a riot. (time passes)
Dark becomes a no-man’s land outside my window.
All the wary eyes dart at any stranger. (time passes)
Everyone outside my window is a stranger.
The racist turned to me and said: You’re black and the night is black
and death and sin and grief are black and even your hair is black damn you!
I carry my soul in a plain brown bag so the blues don’t show.
Hidden from sight my little soul is wrapped tight in the might of me.
I stare one-eyed at the world like a napper peripherally alert and aware.
The wounds on my soul don’t show
and my spirit lays low when the lights glow.
I have the right to camouflage me from those who want to see.
Trying to write down the blues
after all the years of trying to rise above them.
I soak up the suffering like a sponge.
Surviving to record what I can catch has become a crutch
that helps me walk across the floor each day.
Black and woman and poet make quite a carnival.
But I buckle-up and settle down
and somehow persuade the muse that I have things to say.
So I write the blue words in shades of black.
When time cleanses us and hangs our bodies on the stars to dry
what difference will it have made if our eyes were blue or gray?
And to what significant degree in the scheme of things
while voiding into oblivion does anything we physically are matter?
Night falls too often and too soon and when we become ashes
and our history is blown by universal winds into eternity
what would it have mattered if our sins were black or white?
I’ve walked the hard streets and though poor I paid my proverbial dues.
I am colored in a white America and was weaned on the blues.
My words not wise but passionate I ignore what I lack.
And oh my brothers and sisters I’m still proud to be black.
I had a dream. Not like Martins or Malcolm’s
(would that I could be so bold) but I did have a dream.
A bright green dream with gold lacing. And if should become
dance would I on two nickels worth of time.
I had a dream of just enough and no more or less than anyone else
and I still do.