For the Ones with Backbones of Steel

For someone very dear to me whose birthday just passed, and for all my other unintentional muses who keep appearing in my writing no matter what I do. 

And it was that day that the process was complete. You emerged a lot less like a triumphant phoenix, and more like a jumbled mix of bones and cartilage, and hopes for the future dead before they had a chance to sprout in your fertile mind. You were left with cries and sirens and arms cradling the air, a soul too vast to be contained by all those that depended on you, those that fed off your vitality.

So you shrunk the parameters, and your once-infinite wing span diminished to cradle growing bodies, to re-assemble scattered bones, re-twist frayed ends. And you replaced the metallic fragments within yourself, piece by painful piece, binding each one in an alloy of the ashes left of all your losses, and your unbendable iron audacity. But were it not for your steel-clad spine, the frame of that house of twigs would have fallen immediately, so frail was it that the mere thought of a breeze originating in God’s mind would have caused it to topple before the wind even touched the earth. But were it not for the one with the metallic skeleton, calcified determination and baptism of fire, the little weaklings would have remained as dust sitting lightly on top of a tombstone.

As for you, you were bent out of shape. Stretched far too early, de-natured, violated. Your early stages were invaded with the impurity of cancerous growth and no massaging hands or earnest tears, pleas to God for help could halt the corrupting agent in its tracks. You were engulfed in smoke and the fragrance of sauces left to simmer until just right, and the stench of nervous sweat and the mist of regret and lost youth. Your spine bent even more under the weight of your newborn burden, deformed adolescence mangled by full-grown fragility. Stretched to its limit, your frame threatened to buckle and shatter under the weight that was piling up on top of your head, on your shoulders, around your wrists and your ankles. You saw yourself in metal pots, and syringes, and forceps, and rusty hubcaps, and every glance at the mirror confirmed that you were rusting from the inside out. Too early, long before your warranty was up. Metal to metal, teeth grinding into dull rounded edges, you were breaking down. Even the clear air blowing over your person brought more harm and less refreshment. Isn’t it frightening that the very things we depend on can poison us slowly?

They had begun to mine, to loot, to excavate your fleshy remains. Turning your bones into cheap tiaras, and cutlery, and fillings for rotting teeth beyond the point of saving. But landslides and earthquakes happen for a reason. You were no longer going to be the benevolent source of sustenance for all that is wrong with this world. You mended your own broken parts, refusing my feeble offers of assistance. And now I only wish you could lend me some of yourself, galvanize my decaying insides, as if you don’t do enough already.

You in Black

You really need to stop looking for Accra in every pair of swinging hips. You will never be able to fit yourself into the gap between perfect enamel plates set against a starless midnight sky of a face. Why do you care so much? Only a few months and you think you have become entitled to the same petty excuses? I don’t know how it works where you come from, but that won’t fly over here. You in the black, take your hat off! Pull your pants up! Why is your voice so loud? This is not your war to fight. If anything, you are partially to blame, don’t you know your grandfather sold mine away to…

My friend was a midnight baby born to a mother whose golden skin is rivaled only by the sun’s farewell. She said she gets her black from her dad. She has aunts and uncles back home who are “so black, they’re blue”. And it’s beautiful. And tears teeter on the edge of my eyes every single time; what if those were my aunts and uncles too?

Your mother wrings her hands so much that the delicate brown skin on her fingers has began to rub raw and show the ungodly pink underneath. Always in black, what happened to the peace we planted in your heart, worth the seven days we waited to name you…Why are you always bent over? Head touching lap, soul spilling onto ground, ears covered. This posture has become second nature.

I do not possess the right bank balance nor do I have a high enough following of fanatics to discard my black whenever I please. This is not a housecoat or a headwrap that I can shed when it’s time to go out and look like people. Like people. What was I before? This is not a choice. But…you’re not bl− I don’t believe the people who are scared of me and my black lipstick will stop to find out how round my vowels are and what stamp my passport carries before creating a cavity in my skull filled with burning coals and centuries of inhumanity.

But−

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

But−

This is not a choice. I can show off, sure. I can make this glow under the light, just rub on some extra shea butter to be sure. Yes for the hair too. I can smooth it out with powder and man-made perfection. But no one is going to take the time to figure out if I really am from Keta by way of Louisiana by way of a patch of black soil by the Nile. Which came first?

When did you learn to speak English? How did you learn to write like this? This is my English. I have declared it so by the order of the people who did not need to be taught the meaning of nobility and civilization. These lyrics are mine. I have stamped them with my own combination of verb tenses, because where I come from we hide yesterday underneath our tonsils and it bursts forth very time we speak. Mine. This is my kingdom. What did you say? What? You said what?

Wow, your hair and clothes are always so…fun! Why are you always so uptight? This isn’t your story. You’re so…different. It doesn’t matter to anyone that I clapped my hands and stomped my feet amidst dust clouds in games of ampe and not double dutch. I’m sorry, you look so much like- Let’s ignore the fact that my curls scream do-not-comb and hers have been pressed into stringy submission… I’ll pretend I don’t know I’m the only one you actually know…sort of. It doesn’t matter, to them you are all the same. Hey! You in black! What are you looking for in here?

On dirait un Toucouleur! You mean you only speak Ewe? Not only. I speak. I thought your mum was an Ashanti, she’s so black!

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

I showed up late to class today. In all black. I decided to leave out the black lipstick, mostly because I don’t own any. But also because I didn’t want to intimidate anyone any more than my shiny African blackness was about to do. Someone said that poetry was supposed to be a thing of virtue and not a vehicle for hate and vengeance. He didn’t know he was talking about James Baldwin. Why is he so angry? I said: “Maybe because he didn’t ask to be brought here to begin with.” Do you think his ancestors were invited to take an all expenses paid cruise to the New World? Do you think the family he will never know has stopped mourning their loss? You are the reason I wake up with anger fighting to shoot out of my pores. You are the reason we wear anger laced through the spaces between our fingers. Look at my fist.

I no longer exist.

Your lily-white indignation means nothing in the face of pitch black rage. Your voice may try to stack decibels above mine, but black rage will explode hot lava all over your island, black rage will be the only pillar left standing in the middle of your crumbling colosseum, black rage will trample the relics of your stale accomplishments. Black rage has bigger problems than you. Stay out of my way.

You need to make your writing more accessible. How is anyone going to know what this means? They would need to have grown up exactly how you did. Besides, this is not your story. No, there are not enough Toni Morrison or Toni Cade Bambara texts in the world or on your bookshelf for you to claim otherwise. I don’t care that you went to sleep with Sula stomping behind your eyelids. Why are you always so angry? Why the obsession with white evil? Aren’t you tired of carting that hunk of rock around on your back?

I could stop, if only white evil stopped telling me how to be, stopped telling me to be at all-

This is a response to the phenomenal work “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine. You should definitely look it up if you have never heard of it. I had to submit this for my writing seminar, but after the class I went through and made some edits based on how the class went…but that’s another story. 

When Wells Run Dry

And the drought was so severe that the springs had ceased their playful spray months before and the dry riverbeds cracked audibly, sending up gasping pleas to the sky. It was almost as if a mean little deity sat on a chipped wooden throne somewhere in a parched forest, or on top of a mound of dirt, distributing water into enamel basins drop by painful drop with a contemptuous cackle trapped in the back of his dry throat.

In the same way, I doled out affection in stingy portions, when you were almost spent and could barely produce whispers from peeling, bleeding lips. It is possible that my well had simply ran dry- but I must admit- it’s more likely that you were attempting to pull water where only sand and sediment had sat for centuries. Your thirst was uncontrollable; even your pores cried out for what I could not (and did not want to) give. Your appetite demanded the most succulent of fruits, but all I could offer were the shriveled remnants hanging at the end of sagging branches, with juice that had long fermented and vanished.

More. Always wanting more. Why so greedy? Why couldn’t you be content with the memory of greener times? Your voracious consumption was not sustainable. Consuming all. Consuming me. You yourself, you were the wind that whipped through rainforests and stripped trees of their greenness. You were the dust that settled on the eyelids and inside the nostrils of victims as they entered their final rest. You were the supreme being jealously tightening the tap before anyone could taste the metallic sweetness of that life-giving elixir. You were the tornado and the sandstorm, the landslide that demolished any potential fertility and nourishment. You dried up the well, and then complained that it was I who didn’t know where to dig.