Ok, here is the result of the writing prompt based on Shel Silverstein’s poem “Magical Eraser.” I’m posting mine first, and then I’ll post Brian’s at 9:30!
how i became half blind
he gave me a magical eraser
told me to be careful
started with the nose, carved a bit of curve free
like clipping toenails, it fell
disappointed in revision, I bent down
picked up the lopped off nostril
but then the eraser slipped
and caught my eye.
This is another poem by Brian Francis
I met a woman
who said she could read
palms and knew
the night like she knew the laughter
of her children’s children.
When I presented the skin graft
that half moons my right palm
she laughed and said
are like grenades
and some you fling
hoping to make confetti
you held too long.”
Life is good right now… hanging out with awesome friends eating brownies and reading Shel Silverstein. Plus my sister is here and she is letting me share some of her thoughts with you… Her words:
by the overwhelming
of now and we
and it is
what you already are.
Here is a poem by my very good friend, Brian Francis. I will talk about some of the images in the next post
Granddaddy used the mason jars for homemade holy water.
We’ve seen him bring back to life
what was long since buried
and speak truths in tongues–
we still work to decode.
Donovan catches fireflies
in the jars now.
Everyday they scrimmage,
training for when the dark swarms
like fleets of night,
locusts on a desert in bloom
split him clean
down the middle
and smash the mason jar
in his chest.
Sew him back quickly.
I want to stand electric.
We maneuver these days like the sun
came out in blackface.
The audience doesn’t know
if the tears come from the hurt
of the heart collapsing in on itself
or the honest of bottom
The name you scream into the pillow
does not know the body beside you–
We are parallel conversations bent
Bound to our shames even in exaltation. Amen
The jar held seeds
dreamt to be forests,
but we heard how that story ends.
From outside the garden
mommy says you can’t fly in the face of god.
We’re still working out the kinks–
in these wings stitched from phantom kisses,
ill-fitting compasses that stall on themselves
and the spilt innards of mason jars
we found along the way.
Yeah, there are a few cuts,
but under the right light
these wounds blossom
In the meantime
A storm to drown out the sirens’
shrieking fits, mourning
the moments martyred
in the name of clean breaks.
It was as if everything happened faster in Guyana. You could be a teacher at 16, a wife at 17, a lover at 12. I was trying to teach my students about reading, but they were busy learning about love. Sadly, life doesn’t always prepare us for the landmines that crowd our futures, and we all pray sometimes to go backwards in time. Or just for a little piece of that innocence back. Here is a poem about one of my favorite students, Sabitini, who at 13, thought love was the answer to all her problems.
Sabitini presses her legs together
she does not want him to know
what she will give
for a promise of love
or twenty dollars
whichever he offers first
she is hoping for love
but banking on a handful of ones
counted twice just to make sure
stolen one at a time from his mother’s purse
twenty days of waiting
waiting for the dark promise
tucked inside a little boy’s longing
tucked inside a little girl’s hope
the girl inside the moon inside the reflection of the moon caught inside the girl’s eyes
she folds full moons to crescents
she doesn’t count the money
it doesn’t matter if a dollar’s missing
it’s there, fat in her palm
green as the mold on bread
and bathroom sinks at truck stops
and it is too late
too late to change her mind
to back down on her promise
too late to ask for innocence back
they close their eyes and walk into the dark.
After I just posted this last poem, I started thinking about one of my former students. When I was in Guyana, I taught seventh grade at a remedial high school. I knew that the experience of my students in Guyana would be incredibly different from my adolescence, but I was surprised at the tragedy that every single one of my students had endured.
I had one student in particalur, Lisa, who disappeared from school one day. No one knew where to find her, and no one really searched. A group of friends – women without husbands who the town dubbed lesbians – found her a week later, beaten up on the side of the road, inches from death. She had met a man, at least ten years her senior, who promised her a life of comfort in exchange for the prize of her thirteen year old body. She came back to school a few weeks later, the scars on her face healed, but her eyes haunt me to this day. Here is something I wrote about her:
Lisa smiles like a woman
the secret pact of women who have endured
the maturity to hide scars
she sits in the back of the class, legs too long for the Form 2 desk, her knees burn into wood. but she folds her hands across her lap and waits for class to start. the short boy beside her, the kid everyone calls ‘roach’ partly because it is his tittle and partly because it suits him, watches her, too shy to speak. The same way celebrity stuns, Lisa commands quiet. I remember her short hair at the beginning of the term. Her curling plaits that touch her ears remind me of the stretch of time that has passed in her absence. as quick as breath.
he beat the girl for two and a half hours before someone stopped him. They found her, crumpled, broken, with a harem of lesbians a week later. the women had taken the running child in. how did she find the strength to run? beaten near to death, thin limbs bloody, face raw, heart destroyed. what was he trying to find? something that defied exhaustion or humanity, his fists refused to let up. and her mother, somewhere enjoying the feel of the next man’s words in her ears, the elixir of promise velvety smooth on her skin. While lisa felt even the air as it traveled across layers of skin she never knew she had. foreign hands lifting her into shame that her brain could not even fathom, she could only feel the warmth of smiles. of women’s faces surrounding her. a threat disarmed.
this is to the faces pressed in mud
the screams silenced beneath the foot of doubt
why would I do that? don’t you know they always want it
this is to the thirteen year old girl abused by her father
but he has a job driving a boat and he brings home bread and sometimes chicken
and what’s a girl supposed to do?
this is to the girls without voices
who sometimes find it hard enough just to breathe.
This poem is inspired by a conversation I had once with one of my female students. After sharing these poems, I am going to talk about the unique challenges that women face in Guyana, specifically when it comes to physical and sexual abuse. As crippling as the ignorance about rape is here in the United States, the ignorance in a developing country such as Guyana is terrifying. This poem is for all girls, but especially for my beloved students in Guyana who sometimes struggle grasping dreams, who allow themselves to wish for more.
The Owner of the Moon
you touched my wrist
said, miss, why you so fair?
miss, it ain’t fair
how come you skin feel that way?
like chicken skin before you cook it
how come you ain’t cooked like me?
you said, miss, if I got the chance
I might like to be a pilot
fly on out of here
till trees turn to fingersmudges and this life to wind.
miss, if i got the chance,
I might like to go to America
with all them people made out of snow.
if i got the chance, miss
I might like my own bed
one without stevie’s feet so cold
alana’s kicking nightmares,
without mama’s late night tiptoe
but miss, if I could be anything
I might like to be in charge of the moon
choose who I curl up close to
and whose nights I leave cold.
I might like to fly across the sky whenever I want
turn circles around this earth till I’m dizzy
and can’t do nothing else but glow.
miss, you ever wonder
if we got legs to run across the ground,
then what are these arms for?
you ducked down into stars
skin rubbed raw by night
buried your knees in the mud
stuck out your arms like branches
growing from a snowman’s belly
I mean don’t you ever think about it, miss?
maybe these arms, you said
miss, maybe these arms is for running across the sky.
The next few poems I am going to share are set in Guyana, a tiny country in South America where I lived for about six months until my life was changed forever. Though some of my memories of this place are tragic, most of them are amazing and I treasure them beyond what words can describe.
My memories of Guyana are intense and frenzied, bloated against the rest of my past. It is a place that I will never forget and that I never want to forget. One thing I have learned about memories is it is impossible to separate the good for the bad and choose which ones to keep. Some memories are sneaky, and they will climb into the present without warning. Some you can leave behind physically, but they will follow you wherever you go. The following is a poem that I wrote about a weekend trip to the beach:
On the way back from the beach
tiptoeing through this coconut graveyard
flip-flops pinched between fingers
because it’s easier to dance barefoot
He said, miss, you gon’ leave and forget we.
You ain’t never coming back.
Halfway between home and all day
running dizzy on the beach
stomach sick with too much ginnup flesh sucked from bone
teeth stained yellow with curry and cheeks
turned purple with ducking down in the river racing
to see who could hold their breath longer
The day still stuck in her hair and washed
pink all over her,
her flip-flops two watermelons
dragging from her fingers
she opened her mouth to protest
but her tongue lay curled up sleeping
deferred to her teeth
who sucked the spit slow clean from her lips
Miss, you don’t know nothing.
you gon’ go back and you ain’t never think of we again.
All arms and legs stretched thin like chewed bubble gum
his body bent with broken breath and too many words collected
eyes stuffed full with so many stories
she worried sometimes that the seams would rip
and his eyes would spill forever
A ghost lay on the ground
its body crunched like a fistful of paper
belly full of sand and the tip of her toe
cut through yesterday’s bones
Ain’t you never seen a snake skin before miss?
the silhouette of a snake big enough to wrap
around her neck and steal breath with one squeeze
she crouched, looked into where his eyes might be
considered asking if he missed his skin
if hours later he froze with nostalgia about the layers left behind
and wished he could run as he slid back to the place
where his body suddenly collapsed in the middle of the road
tried to scrape up the bits of self as disposable
as eyelashes without wishes
before slithering home to a lover lost
who slams the door in the face of this sudden stranger
you know miss, them snakes
they kill you in one bite
they all over the place
you got to watch where you going
She reached out and grabbed a fingerful of him
slipped his yesterday skin into her pocket
pressed him deep inside until dropped memories and creek water
glued her pants to her thigh
Don’t forget, I beat you, Salliem
I held my breath for sixty-seven seconds underwater.
That ain’t nothing, miss, he said
I just let you win.
I can just keep on holding it for as long as I want
keep on holding it until I decide to let go.
The next morning she dumped yesterday’s clothes in a bucket
filled halfway with soap because more bubbles equals more clean
and she soaked her clothes faded
turned her pockets inside out
scrubbed them paper thin
then hung her pants in the sun to dry.