Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
four: what a ditch becomes to a hungry girl
nobody understood why she liked to walk along the ditch behind the house or wade in it to catch rusty crayfish or why when the there was a drought and the water levels got so low the flies came she would get so sad. the girl had tried to explain to her sister how it made her feel like the whole world is hardening and cracking to pieces she said once. oh stop being so dramatic. it’s just a muddy stream. it’s not the end of the world her sister had replied. the girl didn’t like to think about the end of the world or death or what happened when people fell out of love but she did all the time. it was a strange joy to find a rusty crayfish hiding under a rock or buried deep in the mud of a bank. she loved to watch them squirm as the sunlight filtered into their dark holes and then scoop them into a plastic bucket. when she had twenty or so of them in her bucket she’d watch them flailing around like a moving tapestry of brown threads. then all at once she’d dump them back into the ditch watch them scramble for the familiar and cooling darkness. the girl likened the feeling of burrowing into the side of a riverbank to the comforting feeling of smearing her face with her mother’s mint julep facemask before bed. how sometimes if her mother was in a good mood she’d wipe the green dried cake from the girl’s face in gentle circles with a warm washcloth. there you are my booba girl. skin smooth and lovely as a peach. how the girl would jump into her bed and dive under her pillows. how her mother would snap off the light and hum her way down the dangerous and familiar hallway.
five: what a mini van becomes to a smarty pants girl
you are not allowed in the van during group ever again. the girl could never control her face. when she was in trouble she smiled and flushed and sometimes peed her pants a little. you think this is funny young lady? her mother would close her eyes and put her hands in the air. i just got a call from carl and emma’s mom. they are terrified by your story. i’m so embarrassed. wait until your father gets home. the girl was pleased with herself. come on mom it’s just butt sex. they were going to find out one day. her mother would give the girl that look that said who are you and where is my daughter. the girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. your van smells like man sperm and burnt popcorn anyway.
six: what a geography bee champion becomes to a boy girl
whenever home school group was at huck's house the girl took extra care to lay out her outfit the night before and twist the naps at the back of her head with olive oil. her hair was slowly growing back after she’d decided to cut her locs off six months before. her locs had been down to her shoulders but she’d been having nightmares about the house burning down and her parent’s burnt skeletons trapped in the bed and her sister nowhere to be found. so the girl had started pulling them out one by one to keep herself awake through the night. this went on for weeks. after the house was dark the girl would sneak out of her room. two three times a night she would check the burners on the stove unplug the toaster and scan the skyline for color. finally the girl’s mother noticed the uneven rows of hair at the nape of the girl’s neck. what have you done booba girl? you’ve made a mess of your beautiful hair. the next day her mother took her to the hair salon. they had to drive all the way across town. the black woman who sat her in a chair at the washbowl clucked her tongue. child what have you done to your head? and then took to massaging the girl’s scalp with peppermint shampoo until it tingled like christmas. you sure you want to cut it all off? the woman looked at the girl’s mother when she said this. it’s her choice. the girl’s mother said. the woman clucked her tongue again and led the girl toward the buzz cut station. you look like a little boy. her sister had said when the girl had come home with a neatly shaved head. she looks like an african princess. her mother had corrected sharply. why don’t we pick you out some pretty earrings at the mall this week? the girl hadn’t cared then if she looked like a boy or an african princess. she didn’t care about the mall or earrings either. sometimes she wished she was a boy. just leave me alone. she’d said heading to her room.
but ever since huck had started playing four square with the group more often (he was especially good at around the world) and ever since she’d noticed he had kind dark eyes and that his room looked like the inside of a pirate ship. ever since she’d discovered a pain so sweet between her legs she couldn’t stop touching herself the girl had begun to care a little more. her hair had grown into a short afro about three inches now. four if she picked it out like angela davis. she liked the way the olive oil felt in her hands. the way it soften her boyish curls into lovely tight rings. and it became a ritual. on nights before group and sometimes just on evenings when the rain refused to come. when all the windows in the house were flung open and she and her sister and her mother would walk around in only their bras and underwear the girl would oil her hair. her neck. her shoulders. her elbows. her knees. toes. the girl liked to stand in front of the mirror and imagine her body as a continent. she liked to draw all over her skin. with her finger she drew invisible hills and rivers new names new places. and sometimes the girl would imagine huck studying this new map of her body. this she could hear him reciting in her head this is your belly button. this is the strange and silky hair growing in your crotch. this is your right breast. the loveliest softest land of all.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
the kids who live downstairs wake me most mornings. car doors slamming soccer cleets and book bags loaded into their fathers van before it takes off for school. on thursday mornings it’s the trash trucks. the black iron gate to our complex creaks open as men roll our dumpster to the street and fork lift its contents into the pit of their truck. sometimes it’s the bart train making it’s first 5am trip on rails raised above east 12th street that wakes me. empty but for a few passengers it wails through my dreams like a hallow chant a city morning lullaby.
for four years i have lived here at 29th and east 14th. for four years i have walked the five blocks down east 14th past the goodwill the two taco trucks in its parking lot the woman selling tamales from her cart just one more block down past the abandoned and now demolished auto shop and wendy’s crossing fruitvale and then cutting through the bank of america parking lot to get to fruivale bart station.
how long does it take to learn a street? a city? the men at the supermercado on my corner speak arabic spanish and english. when i stop in to buy mangos or bread for lunch they greet me and yell one of my best customers! how are you today? i know their faces not their names. i know a bag of carrots will cost roughly 75 cents that one dollar will get me four slices of pan dulce or two lime popsicles from the cooler. i know the man at the meat counter wants to submit an application to be my husband.
the familiar the routine comes laced with foreignness. i am not from here. i am awkward black girl with her laptop bag and banana hoop earrings. i am outsider. i am too fancy too stuck up for my own good. girl i like your locs smile for me why you look so angry you too good to talk to me men slow their cars and honk as i keep headphones on pretending not to hear them calling me a bitch when i don’t answer. or sometimes i smile back say hi and then girl where you from? you not from around here. i open my mouth and a jumble of cities borders cultures pour out. what language am i speaking?
the walk down east 14th is gold. sunnier than san francisco on any given day oakland stretches her warm smile down the street and over the buildings so that i can’t help but feel her wealth. i am sun ray on this street and sometimes my body forgets to hold itself in. i pull off layers and walk with my shoulders legs arms bare for the world to see. i can do this. i live here. i am a woman walking. i am fire.
i am a woman walking on this street.
streetwalker mother hooker sister trick daughter bop my hips my ass on sale with the rest of the woman. took me six months to learn why there are hardly any bus shelters on east 14th. why cops randomly check the ids of young girls wearing short shorts. six months to learn to see and then ignore the girls standing on corners in shadows with heels and no faces. six months to learn my place. no matter if i keep the layers on. no matter if i scowl at every car that slows or turns around to slide up next to me at 8am. i am a bitch. i am a whore. i am a woman body walking the street too much skin too much breast to hide. i am witness to every screaming girl getting beaten in her pimp’s car. i am silence. i am the cycle. i am rage. i am too good too scared to get involved. i am not from here. i am here. i see. i am seen. and the men always stop call out reaching for anything. anyone. i belong here because i am fire. i am easy beautiful misplaced walking rubble.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
one: what a mountain becomes to a lost girl
she didn’t know what stopped her exactly except to say that the whole forest began to throb around her like a fresh bruise. she couldn’t remember how long ago at what curve or how far she had strayed from the voices of her parents her sister. she had simply walked at her own pace. ahead of the group taken the wrong fork. she had been thinking of titles. los manzanos. how strange to name a whole mountain range after the mealy red fruit tree. this wild stacking up around her was nothing like the polished piles of apples at the grocery store. as she traced her way backwards the path winding ahead of her like a diamondback rattler the dusk settling like venom in her veins the girl counted her footsteps. she became a black ant marching and carrying all her food back to the queen. so focused on her task was she that the girl barely heard the voices or the shrieks of rescue whistles in the shadows ahead. so focused that when she ran straight into her mother’s arms she cried and thrashed her body not because she was relieved but because she had almost been free.
two: what a tree becomes to a spy girl
after she stopped going to 5th grade because the brown girls called her nigger and the white boys called her ugly and kathy the fat girl who everyone made fun of didn’t want to be her friend either the girl took to climbing trees. that was the best thing about albuquerque and their new house that sat at end of a dirt road on an acre of valley land. they had all kinds of trees in the yard. crab apple trees that bloomed into clouds of pink. cottonwoods that lined the ditch behind the house and flexed their muscles against a flaming sky. tall trees with sturdy arms and sweeping views of the next-door adobe houses the horse ranch down the road the noisy canopy of the exotic bird farm half a mile away.
this was also after her mother started sitting on the back porch in the dark or sleeping the day away. after her father started going on more and more business trips and her older sister got too cool to play dolls. so what else was the girl to do but climb trees and besides she had a favorite one. it grew in the very back left hand corner of their yard behind the chicken coop and the compost pile. a cottonwood holding the leftovers of an old tree house. five rickety steps nailed to the trunk a 4 x 4 platform with a couple slats missing and rusty zip-line no one dared use. after slugging a bucket of carrot peelings egg shells and coffee rinds and dumping it into the stinking heap the girl would wipe her hands on her red raincoat and climb the tree to sit precariously on her throne. she’d take out her notebook a pair of binoculars she’d stolen from the children’s museum an almond butter and honey sandwich and a pen. then she’d get to the real business of living. recording. she could see and hear and feel everything up there. through the leaves the sky was an open wound changing colors in the wind. and when it grew dark and her mother began slamming together dinner in the kitchen she’d climb down and walk back to house. her sister on the phone smacking her gum would pause and roll her eyes. what do you see up in that stupid tree anyway. you’re not harriet the spy you know. that’s just a movie.
three: what a mini van becomes to a curious girl
thursday was homeschool group day and the girl had to spend the whole morning cleaning her room and the den in time for the rest of the kids to arrive with their parents. most of the other homeschool kids were hopeless. that’s how she liked to explain it to her best friend lea who she’d left behind in baltimore when they’d move a year earlier. what are they like? lea would ask over the phone during their weekly calls to one another. oh you know kind of hopeless and none of them can do a back handspring like you. the truth was that the homeschool group kids were really not that bad. they were just strange. carl and his sister emma were super religious but sweet. melody was obsessed with sailor moon and her step dad was a control freak who didn’t let her have sleepovers. vienna and her two younger twin sisters caty and elyse were dancers and only ate leafy and tofu dishes. then there was huck named after the book huckleberry finn. huck was a geography bee champion but didn’t really know how to talk about anything else except geography. the girl wasn’t complaining though. it was nice to have company since her sister didn’t really like to play anymore and well sometimes she worried except for lea and her notebook she’d didn’t have anyone to talk to.
the rest of the kids arrived at noon and the first hour of group was always some sort of lesson. today they were learning about the civil rights movement and sit ins. the girl knew all about the civil rights movement. she’d written illustrated edited and self-published a whole magazine about the little rock nine emmitt till martin luther king jr and so on. the girl looked around the room at the other kids who seemed to be in awe or shock or disbelief. didn’t they know their american history? hosing people down is not a very christian thing to do carl couldn’t contain himself any longer. yea emma chimed in couldn’t they just talk to the colored people? african american huck’s dad who was teaching the lesson this week corrected we don’t call them colored anymore. it’s just not correct. the girl hoped nobody could tell her ears were prickling hot. she couldn’t control it. sometimes she just wanted to yell I AM THEM even though she knew they didn’t think of her that way.
after the lesson the parents would sit in the living room and discuss camping trips and gluten free diets while the kids would take to the yard like wild things. the girl liked this time best when they were free to play four square in the driveway or red rover in the grass. vienna and the girl’s big sister were the oldest in the group so they liked to sit under a tree giggling and trading fourteen-year-old secrets over bottles of nail polish. but the girl was restless today. after fifteen minutes of four square she whined let’s do something else. like what dodge ball? melody chimed in. truth or dare. the girl grinned. but not here it’s too public. let’s go in my mom’s van.
her mother’s van was a 1988 dodge mini van. sky blue with wood striped paneling on the sides. a six seater with grey upholstery covered in crumbs and stains. it sat in the cool shade of the two-door garage and the girl took her place in the passenger seat as the rest of the group crowded into the back through the side door and shut it. melody caty elyse carl and emma. they were all there. huck had excused himself to study flash cards in the den. my dad says this game is sinful. there went carl preaching again. then don’t play. the girl said. no one forced you into the van jesus head. melody giggled and elyse pulled out a carrot stick from a zip lock bag and started nibbling nervously like a bunny. who wants to go first? nobody said a word. fine i will. the girl rolled her eyes just as she’d watched her sister do. ok someone ask me. ask you what? caty asked. truth or dare.
the first round was a bust. caty dared the girl to hold her tongue to the garage floor for ten seconds. no biggie. the girl did it for twenty. then it had been carl’s turn and he of course picked truth. do you ever forget to pray before eating? his sister emma had blurted out before anyone else had a chance to come up with a better question. yes he’d said but then i say a double prayer the next time i eat to make up for it. then melody got dared to make out with her serena sailor moon doll for one minute. she gagged as if they’d asked her to make out with an actual person but did it anyway. finally it was the girl’s turn again. truth i guess. she said not sure the game had been such a good idea after all. these kids were creatively challenged when it came to inventing dares. the group looked at her blankly for a moment. then elyse who had been quiet the whole time eating her carrots said almost too faintly for anyone to hear how do two guys have sex? the whole van erupted. ewwww gross caty started elyse why would you even ask that? melody was laughing uncontrollably i think i’m going to pee my pants she hiccupped between snorts. carl had turned white as a sheet and emma was smiling angelically what’s sex? she asked. the girl was speechless. she couldn’t have been less prepared to answer the question but was delighted that elyse had turned the game towards such a deliciously controversial topic. she chewed the inside of her cheek and thought back to what she knew about sex. man sex. there had been a dirty magazine in lea’s older brother’s room when she and lea had been snooping one day. a whole section on threesomes and some very informative pictures. this would have to do. it’s kind of like a sandwich she blurted out before she’d completely formed her talking points. the whole van grew silent as the group turned their attention back to the girl sitting in the front seat. a sandwich? elyse’s eyes grew wide. shit what was she saying. yea um like you know a sandwich. two guys and a girl in the middle. or sometimes the girls on the bottom and the two guys are on top of her and each other. the car remained silent as a coffin. but where does the guy put his you know thingy when he’s on top of another guy? melody ventured to ask as carl began rocking back and forth in his seat. the girl took a deep breath. she wasn’t really sure about the exact mechanics but there were only a couple holes it could go into and she’d studied her anatomy coloring book pretty thoroughly. she was taking a risk but she was 75 percent sure her answer was correct and even if it wasn’t they’d never know. she couldn’t believe it had come to this. she had their undivided attention. she couldn’t wait to tell lea. well she began slowly taking a deep and what she hoped was a wise breath. i think it goes in the other guy’s butt.
To be continued...
Thursday, January 12, 2012
baby, come here, stop fussing
i got all the milk you need
enough for them white ones too
don’t cry now, latch on
your mammy will be home
when the sun goes down
she’s going to sing you a song
while she rubs the day out of her feet
there now child, settle
we are all mothers here
take my milk before it sours
take it, sweet baby, take it
the milk came from the hospital bank
a dozen little clear bags, jammed into a cooler
when it was time to feed me
mama attached a small tube
to the end of a baggy
then threaded the other end
under her shirt, around her
body, pale as moonstone
bringing it directly to her nipple
like fresh bait dancing on a hook
i could smell it (what was that?)
my infant mouth, opening and closing
spittle gathering at the corners
as she brought me into
the ocean of her chest, cooing
latch on, booba girl. latch on.
and i did, every time, a little brown bundle
suckling her only mama
i was so hungry
i couldn’t stop
what a sight we must have been
what a sweet, messy sight
Sunday, April 10, 2011
this is for those of us baked
with a little too much salt
brown girls/with tender heads
with white mama’s who tried/so hard
to make us/sit still now
let me try and get this comb through
your hair/for those of us who love
the graceful thunder of our bodies
but who can’t quite catch/a reflection
look/nobody asked us/did we want to
show like this/no/but we do/everyday
even when it pains/when somewhere
out there/one of our faces/missing
for those of us who pour all our being
into invention/so many hungry girls
copying words like/obsidian/temper
bold/from the dictionary into notebooks
this is for those of us who want/more
who taste like too much/everything
who speak like scissors/slicing
a pair of fresh jeans/who dream
this is for those of us who crave/music
who press our ears to dryers in winter
the thumping chest of a day
a wall of honeysuckle/buzzing with nectar
this is for those of us thrust/into movement
for those/discovering/brave ones
always reaching/always finding
the humming insides of things
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
They told me not to look so serious.“It’s the depression, sweetheart, not the apocalypse,” the one with the stained teeth joked. From the upstairs window I could feel Ma’s eyes on me. We’d fought this morning. This was the last of the money. Every night we’d write letters, Ma dictating over my shoulder:
We’re doing just fine here, the patches on the roof are holding up so well. Louise and I haven’t seen one drop of rain in the kitchen since you left. Did you hear about Ellen Church, she’s from out west where you are. They are letting young ladies be flight attendants now days, imagine that! We miss you so much, but don’t worry, your girls are taking care of things.
Inside nothing was where it was supposed to be. Ma slept with all of her old dolls in the living room. The patch over the kitchen roof had been leaking for weeks. The upstairs bedrooms cleared out, except for my bed.
This was the last of the money. The photographers promised it would be worth it. “ Our camera will make you look ten years younger ma’am,” they’d gushed at Ma as she handed over the bills over. She smiled, “Not me, my daughter. She’s the one you’ll be photographing.”
“Now stand still,” stained teeth barked at me, ducking under the black tent. The heat was overwhelming. I looked east. In the house a shadow began sweeping. This was for him. “Your father, he worries,” her mother had said.
This was the last of the money. I stood very still, letting the sun erase my face.
* This past summer I spent three hour sifting through an old box of photos at the flea market. I've been working on writing stories/poems based on the photos, and have been both inspired and haunted by some of the images. This photo in particular haunts me. It's out of focus and lacks place. All that was written on the back was the date. I'm posting this on my blog because as an adoptee I often wonder about what get's left behind, and what is kept. Who is this woman? What life did she lead? And how did pieces of her end up in a box? The story and names above are fictional, and this is merely my interpretation of a moment I will never fully understand.