At the Age of 18 – Ode to Girls of Color
At the age of 5
I saw how we always pick the flower swelling with the most color.
The color distinguishes it from the rest, and tells us:
This flower should not be left behind.
But this does not happen in the case of colored girls.
Our color makes hands pull back, and we, left to grow alone,
stretching our petals to a dry sun.
At the age of 12
I blinked in the majesty of the color within myself,
blinded by the knowledge that a skinny black girl, a young brown teen,
has the power to light Los Angeles all night,
the radiance to heal all the scars left on this city’s pavement.
Why had this realization taken so long,
When color pulses in all that is beauty and painting and human?
You see, long ago, they told me
that snakes and spiders have spots and vibrant bodies if they are poisonous.
In other words, being of color meant danger, warning, ‘do not touch’.
At the age of 18
I know my color is not warning, but a welcome.
A girl of color is a lighthouse, an ultraviolet ray of power, potential, and promise
My color does not mean caution, it means courage
my dark does not mean danger, it means daring,
my brown does not mean broken, it means bold backbone from working
twice as hard to get half as far.
Being a girl of color means I am key, path, and wonder all in one body.
At the age of 18
I am experiencing how black and brown can glow.
And glow I will, glow we will, vibrantly, colorfully;
not as a warning, but as promise,
that we will set the sky alight with our magic.
He had not been denied the world. Terrible
scenes that he clung to because they taught him
the world will at last be buried with him.
As well as the exhilarations. Now,
he thinks each new one will be the last one.
The last new page. The last sex. Each human
being’s story, he tells nobody, is a boat
cutting through the night. As starless blackness
approaches, the soul reverses itself, in
the eerie acceptance of finitude.
Words Were Changing
Thanked for kindness, I said
you’re welcome, and welcome
spun back to what it meant,
before. Welcome, come
in, in accord with my will.
Come into warmth, you
are wanted, were waited
for. Welcome to these
arms, spread out, exposing
the bearer’s heart.
You are well come, it is well
you have come for me.
And if night swallows
us, it will be well, we
will be welcome –
the gates swing wide,
the bridge arcs tenderly
up over the river.
I laid a path, pruned
trees for your body
to pass through.
My bread, your bread.
My rafters, yours, timber
above our heads, or
to float on.
I fell asleep by the fire
near a bag of barley,
sweet smoke, and the kettle’s
belly, rounded iron
forged on a day no sharpness
cut the mind of its maker.
There were other days
for sharpness, edges.
It is important to know
the difference of days,
and this was not one.
After Twenty-Seven Years of Marriage
I imagine your soul is the texture of cantaloupe
as you bend over the tub to wash your hair.
100 million years is a long time to migrate, but
the warblers flying through the black gum trees
outside our window navigate the same space
as their ancestors. The cat, descended from Egypt,
sleeps in the crook of your legs
with the expectation that we will rub her
under the chin and down the bridge of her nose.
In the morning a storm sacrifices more than six
inches of rain, and now a cow bobs down the river,
rolling from side to side. You collected toy horses
as a child because your father was poor and drank away
the hay, the stall doors, the paddock fencing.
After correcting me about how your soul feels,
you feed me pink slices of watermelon.
I drown happily in the sweetness
of your company.
A Little Closer Though, If You Can, For What Got Lost Here
–Carl PhillipsOther than that, all was still — a quietso quiet that, as if silence were a kind of spell, andwords the way to break it, they began speaking.They spoke of many things:sunset as a raft leaving the water in braids behind it;detachment, the soul, obedience;swans rowing at nightfall across a sky filled with snow;what did they wish they could see, that they used to see;to mean no harm, or to not especially, just now, be looking for it;what would they wish not to see, could they stop seeing;courage mattering so much less than not spooking easily —maybe all nerve is; the search-and-rescue map wildflowersmake of a field in summer; deserving it, versus asking for it,versus having asked, and been softly turned from.They said it would hurt, and it does.
Prayer for Words
–N. Scott Momaday
My voice restore for me.
Here is the wind bending the reeds westward,
The patchwork of morning on gray moraine:
Had I words I could tell of origin,
Of God’s hands bloody with birth at first light,
Of my thin squeals in the heat of his breath,
Of the taste of being, the bitterness,
And scents of camas root and chokecherries.
And, God, if my mute heart expresses me,
I am the rolling thunder and the bursts
Of torrents upon rock, the whispering
Of old leaves, the silence of deep canyons.
I am the rattle of mortality.
I could tell of the splintered sun. I could
Articulate the night sky, had I words.
The Lost Art of Letter Writing
The ratio of daylight to handwriting
Was the same as lacemaking to eyesight.
The paper was so thin it skinned air.
The hand was fire and the page tinder.
Everything burned away except the one
Place they singled out between fingers
Held over a letter pad they set aside
For the long evenings of their leave-takings,
Always asking after what they kept losing,
Always performing—even when a shadow
Fell across the page and they knew the answer
Was not forthcoming—the same action:
First the leaning down, the pen becoming
A staff to walk fields with as they vanished
Underfoot into memory. Then the letting up,
The lighter stroke, which brought back
Cranesbill and thistle, a bicycle wheel
Rusting: an iron circle hurting the grass
Again and the hedges veiled in hawthorn
Again just in time for the May Novenas
Recited in sweet air on a road leading
To another road, then another one, widening
To a motorway with four lanes, ending in
A new town on the edge of a city
They will never see. And if we say
An art is lost when it no longer knows
How to teach a sorrow to speak, come, see
The way we lost it: stacking letters in the attic,
Going downstairs so as not to listen to
The fields stirring at night as they became
Memory and in the morning as they became
Ink; what we did so as not to hear them
Whispering the only question they knew
By heart, the only one they learned from all
Those epistles of air and unreachable distance,
How to ask: is it still there?
I’m going back to Minnesota where sadness makes sense
–Danez SmithO California, don’t you know the sun is only a godif you learn to starve for him? I’m bored with the oceanI stood at the lip of it, dressed in down, praying for snowI know, I’m strange, too much light makes me nervousat least in this land where the trees always bear green.I know something that doesn’t die can’t be beautiful.Have you ever stood on a frozen lake, California?The sun above you, the snow & stalled sea—a field of mirrorall demanding to be the sun too, everything around youis light & it’s gorgeous & if you stay too long it will kill you& it’s so sad, you know? You’re the only warm thing for miles& the only thing that can’t shine.