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by Clinnesha Sibley
Star-spangled bullets pierced the paint of the walls
just off of St. Andrews Church Road.
Unarmed in the hallway–
they somehow believe that legal and moral actions were taken.
They called me a soft target.
my showers are for singing the Gospel.
my Teflon pots now ruptured, they runneth over.
What a concept.
Black women are soft targets for everyone, I guess.
For the men and women we love.
For the blue men though, “a ‘soft target’ is a person, thing, or place that is easily accessible to the general public and relatively unprotected, making it vulnerable to military or terrorist attack.”
To this I say…
We are not!
We are not sitting ducks waiting to be hunted by your 40 caliber.
We are not fodder for your cannons.
We are worthy of touch and kiss.
We are saving up to buy this house so we can start a family.
We are making people laugh
and crying confidentially into our pillows at night.
We are human beings
with smiles that light up the sky.
We are so bright we are a phenomenon.
We are not who you open fire on.
We are who you open your hearts to.
We are not seeing that man anymore because we deserve better–mama even says so.
We are gripping flowers in the bend of our arms because we worked damned hard for them.
We are eating out because life is good.
We are watching Freedom Writers because it inspires us (and deep down I know I am a writer).
We’ve got “too blessed to be stressed” hanging on our wall because we need a reminder every day.
I’m sorry, Kenny
that when you called out to me–
I could not answer.
When someone needs me,
I always answer.
They said I was a soft target,
but I watched my door come off its hinges
and it was the most horrifying thing I ever saw in my life.
For me, a tree was planted
candles were lit
buildings were burned
and a bill got named.
Jesus, I couldn’t breathe.
…now, everything is breathtaking.
…oh Kenny, I finally found a perfect place to watch the sunset.
By Jennifer Lubin
*Series Editors' Hybrid Pick
Daddy, why they say this little girl gone missin’?
What little girl?
This one right here on the milk carton.
Because someone done snatched her.
Why they snatched her?
Don’t know. Prob’ly ‘cause somebody bad gon’ do something bad to her.
And now they looking for her?
On this milk carton?
Are they gonna’ find her?
I don’t know. Hope so.
Does she drink milk?
Is someone gonna snatch me, Daddy?
You ain’t gon’ have to worry ‘bout that.
Because I ain’t gon’ let nobody snatch you.
If I get snatched, will they put my picture on a milk carton?
You ain’t gotta worry ‘bout that, neither.
Because you black. Ain’t nobody gon’ come looking for you if you get snatched, ‘cept me and yo Mamma.
Will you find me if I get snatched, Daddy?
You gotdamned right I’m gon’ find you. But you ain’t gon’ get snatched. Now finish your milk and buckle your seat belt, Baby Girl.
We gotta get you to school.
By Annah Sidigu
By Gloria Browne-Marshall
My mother ain’t no Big Momma. Don’t dare cry.
She won’t pick you up gentle and kiss where it hurts,
never went to the valley to send me up high.
And only says good stuff when I say it first.
She’s not the one in birthday cards, not mine.
She won’t praise my efforts that come up short,
don’t know me more than I know myself or sigh
because I breathe in and out. With me, she’s bored.
My mother was never Big Momma. Her embrace—
it was not thickly rolled pillows of perfumed steam clinging to folks long past grown and gone their way.
No. Children were just hoarders of her golden dreams.
Was life too stony for her to break off a piece? Hungry,
but preferring to feast only off the best parts of me,
leaving bitter-roots to be fixed by Big Mommas it seems
like Santa Clause, only come ‘round when you’re sleep.
Maybe she got no Big Mommas from the start,
To fight the bullies at school or the boogeymen at night,
no soft hands or wordless caresses held her heart
where life’s bridges were too thinly patched to cross tired.
Say I’m blessed. Blessed with her thirst, lips dry, spare,
drinking from shiny cups not found on some rough table.
Tall in my power to haunt those weakened by love to share—
life. Bone cold, fearing, like my mother, I’m not able.
I’m no Big Momma. Tho’ I’ve gone low raising some high,
none of them fruit of my womb. None stopping their claim—
women, men lifting skinny-armed girls to hold up half the sky,
makers of women, loving mommas, birthing sun and rain.
By Yvette Green
Anger had taken up residence in her memory
At first, I would shrug off my grandmother’s words as her own misery,
her winter season.
But today, on the promise of my personal new year:
My grandmother called to say, “Happy Birthday,”
Through the phone, I could see her
smirk behind large bifocals
pressed against grey eyes,
propped on ears that had grown both wide and long with her years.
She watched as I aged.
On this birthday, my new season spoke age to me: 35.
The hardness of the odd numbers
sat firmly against one another.
Advanced maternal age
surreptitiously stood in her shadows.
Today, she bequeathed anxiety and unresolved pain to me.
I, too, had been abandoned,
unworthy of even
the chance to become a bare tree that
still stood straight and reached to the heavens.
Today, her words took up residence in my heart
She reached through my flesh and
pushed her fist past tender muscles,
punctured blood vessels,
severed arteries until her tired fingers attacked my bones—
She made my rib cage her harp to accompany her refrain:
“you won’t have another child,
because he left you.
You’re just like me,
I ain’t got no husband and you don’t either.”
Birthday text messages from those who preferred not to talk but wanted to do more than the obligatory Facebook wall post poured in immediately on the first day of autumn. I’m usually hypnotized by the changing of the guards. The trees slowly, almost imperceptibly drain the summer green from their leaves and proudly adorn themselves in robust rusts, butternut squashes and brilliant magentas meet moody maroons. Each birthday, as I entered my own new year, I wrapped my arms around the newness of the season.
An early happy birthday text message was rudely met with, “35 can go hide under a rock!” I had greeted my birthday sourly and my friend momentarily caused me to reevaluate my perspective.
“Enjoy every moment because 45 will be here soon,” she cautioned. I failed to apologize for being so ungrateful but offered sincere appreciation for her wisdom.
Soon after, my 84-year-old grandmother called and quickly put herself at the center of the conversation, “I want you [to come see me], you ain’t got no husband.” Hence, I was supposed to jump and go visit her because no man was tethering me to him. She was asking me to come to my aunt’s house for a joint birthday celebration with my aunt who was fourteen years my senior to the day. I declined, not wanting to spend an hour or more each way driving up and down Interstate 95 between Maryland and Virginia. Not wanting to mask my feelings about being husbandless on this day. Not really wanting to do the family thing, wanting to do me. Even if that meant doing nothing with my boys.
Shortly thereafter, she had removed herself from the center of the conversation and traversed across the span of her 15 grandchildren’s lives and landed on my brother and his girlfriend. Trying to be a contributor to this conversation, I added, “yea we might have another wedding soon. You know we’ve got a baby coming.” (My cousin and his wife were expecting in October). But still thinking of my brother, she said, “yea they could have a baby. You can’t. Your husband left you.”
Usually when she sings her sad refrain of “you ain’t got no husband,” I’m unmoved by the melody. When she learned of my ex’s departure, she proclaimed her awareness of the ill-fitting match: “when ya’ll told me he liked to cook, I knew something was wrong. Caught him back.” She fits this vocal tic into the conversation; it signals that anger remains a part of her memory. Months after her reminder of my failings, she shared, “now you’re just like me. I ain’t got no husband and neither do you.”
“I can tell you this, it hurt me that he [my grandfather] went out on me…” she relayed.
I knew what she meant. I understood being hurt. But I straightened my shoulders and asserted: that pain was hers, not mine. I wasn’t going to hold onto that hurt. I would choose differently.
This specific year, however, autumn had failed in its sleight of hand. It had always seemed majestic. Yet, this new season spoke age to me. My grandmother’s harsh spirit was reflected in her words. I grew ever fearful of my fate. I was afraid the trees would remain the same for me and my life would mirror hers.
Today, those words were not hers, but mine. I was not just alone, but abandoned, not good enough to be loved. 35 was turning a corner and the likelihood of another marriage and another child were becoming further out of sight. Her unending pain was becoming a generational curse.
"The Wisdom of the Elders"
By Kimberly Jackson
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