Her Story


Lita Hooper

Her Story

He came to me

with dreams that stretched beyond

daddy's infinite acres,

my duty manifested.

Even offered up promise

as if it were a little gift

only a rural gal could love.

When I said yes

we both turned,

behind us

the train to Memphis

it too on its way.

Then came the new life:

too-high rents

too many babies.

Just four.

But how could I believe

in silence after a chorus

of hungry cries

or look past those frightful eyes

as they diminished each evening

into the lonesome dark.

Who could ignore their swelling bellies

telling the world of our failure.

Or believe a black child has needs

the world can't measure.

So we worked

fell into this life.

Did what we could.

And what you are

is what we learned to sell and take.






His Story

I worked the night shift

as a railroad man.

I took my tips, teased the air

with smiles, nods, thank you ma'ams.

I placed bets when whisky

snaked my veins

but I went home to Mississippi—

to pine trees stretching

tall as prayer.

Some nights I danced.

She says I gambled life

to taste easy feasts,

but there was also this:

me standing at the front door--

my money in one hand

my dreams buried years since.



The House of Dangerous Surprise

Suburban barbeques, late-night bid whist parties,

laughter and frying fish crackling the air,

I come from Chicago,

brought up on blues and beer

by men and women who worked the hard shift.

Descendants of the northern migration,

they staked their claim in the Midwest—

urban-drawn folk who gave up back porch tales

for fast promises of a greedy city.

They built churches and taverns side by side

and I was baptized in both.

I come from kitchens filled with cousinsauntsgodsistersplaybrothers,

living rooms where halos of smoke crowned steppers

who made love to Sam Cooke

while others nodded and snapped jeweled fingers,

tapped polyester knees.

I grew up with Bobby Blue Bland, Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder

singing me into fantasy, blocking out

the hard clamor of parental love.

I come from chronic rage raised up by whiskied glances,

my mother's cries piercing my sleep as

the dog shits in the corner, too frightened by it all.

My sisters pretend to sleep, not smell

the sting of cigarettes and wine nudging the air

separating the white officer and my father

whose fist, a glistening cannonball, silences my mother.

And all the while B.B. King repeats himself, urging

them back to the blues of their youth.

I come from a house of dangerous surprise,

people made mad by desire and dream.

Factory workers, truckers, mechanics

who showed frightening love, made holidays and birthdays

divine spectacles. Then,

the timely blow. Still,

I grew straight, found peace in the inbetween.

And what of this?

I come from a people flawed and bruised

who loved me while

trying to love each other.