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,
the train to Memphis
it too on its way.
Then came the new life:
too many babies.
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.
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.