Open Letter to Ross on the Subject of Cow Fields

Let me tell you about a road thirty-seven miles away from your doorstep where rain pleats the moss on oak bark, where faces weep sweat under Carolina straw hats. 

Country Line Road is two lanes bordered by pines, kudzu, and wide open fields, overgrown and underworked. 

You once told me that nowhere was Hanover with winters below twenty and an open window over your bed that chilled the top sheet to frost. 

I say nowhere is a cow field, a bare-chested farmer in undone overalls spitting tobacco into the wind. 

Nowhere is a window into wilderness, chiggers, raccoons, and squirrels high jumping off a tool shed. 

Nowhere is a Waffle House with a blacked out “l” and miles of unlit county roads. 

Nowhere is a lone cursor flashing on a single blank page, a white room lit blue by a laptop screen, the crick of tired fingers typing and backspaces an eight count on a stubborn key board. 

But sometimes, I dream of a cow field, of empty grass peaked by trillium and buckthorn. 

I dream of home, of Airport Road, of parking curb side to watch an Boeing 747 come in. 

That is my nowhere. 

Nowhere has infinite patience, no regard for time, for schedules. 

It just keeps growing. 

SOC: Time

Sometimes, I sleep with a watch under my pillow. The mechanical tick becomes the metronome of my pulse. My heart pumps in tune to each second. My breathing evens. 

I dream in plots. Exposition. Rising action. Climax. Falling action. The denouement is always interrupted by sunrise, by my phone buzzing a six a.m. alarm. 

He told me, maybe you have too much time on your hands. My pulse tapped a staccato. My vision sharpened. My fingernails dug grooves into my palms. I don’t have time for you, I wanted to say. Instead, it was goodnight. Instead, it was, I’ll talk to you in the morning. 

A psychic traced my lifeline with a ruby red fingernail. “Your previous life was cut short, but this one,”she tapped the edge of my palm, ” this one will be long.”  

I can count on one hand the number of times I have followed the sunrise, watched the sky light up through mascara crusted eyes, tasted tequila, lipstick, and spearmint gum on my dry, cracked lips. This is beautiful, I thought. I’ll wake up earlier, I promised.  

1,567 steps from my bedroom to the stop sign before crossing Joseph Lowery. Before the hill that makes my lungs scream. I ran with a small backpack and wraps over bruised knuckles. You can’t hit the heavy bag with just yoga gloves. 
23 seconds precede my phone call going to voicemail. I turn it off and tell time by the length of shadows outside my window. When the sun hits below the half-drawn shades, it’s five p.m. I turn the phone back on. Nothing has changed. 
“You will have one love in your life,” the psychic told me. She cupped my warm brown hands in her cold white ones. Her booth smelled like meat lovers pizza and Diet Pepsi. She let go. Rose quartz dropped from my fingers.  
“Quartz is the second most abundant mineral. Crystal shops are a ripoff.” The geology professor nodded to the girl in the front row wearing an earth bound tee-shirt. I thumbed my crescent moon necklace. Scratched the teardrop moonstone with my fingernail. 
In the corner of an old composition notebook, “Crying is a waste of time. DANCE.” 
I danced holes in shoes before, pirouetting on concrete. I dance blisters on the balls of feet, thundering my heart with exertion.  

I say the bad words in songs my mom use to soap my mouth for. I scream “fuck you” to my carpeted floor when I hear my neighbor’s radio up too loud. I dance on her head. I play my music too loud. Someone stomps overhead. We all dance our anger. 

About Bleach

The potted plant slipped from my fingers and splattered dirt to the roots of the carpet. The broom made it worst. The vacuum clogged. My sister grabbed bleach. We scrubbed until the beige carpet turned platinum. 
The stained didn’t go away with water. It lived under an old purple fringed rug that use to be in the bathroom. When we pulled the rug back to show our mom what happened she laughed, pressed her hand to her cheek and shook her head, “Why put a rug on it? It’s not going to go away.”  
One cap of Clorox per gallon of water for scrubbing kitchen floors, disinfecting countertops, for sinks, bath tubs, and baseboards.  
I soaked cotton balls in bleach and rubbed them against my cheeks, under my chin, poured a cupful into my bath water and scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed. There were no platinum streaks, no change in the darkness of my skin, but I remember the burn. I remember crying when my skin didn’t change. That lingers.  
When I sit in front of my mirror, I remember the stain on the carpet, remember the bleach eating away the color, remember my mother tapping her cheek and shaking her head. Covering it won’t make it go away.  
I stare at my skin, rub shea butter on it, allow it to be. It isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t a stain. 
It is mine. It is what it is meant to be. 

About Pain

There is a small scar under my bottom lip that marks the spot where my lower front teeth stabbed through the skin when I was eight. It was the first time I got stitches. 
There is another one on my upper right thigh that I got from a botched shot when I was five. The nurse and my dad tried to keep me still, but just as the needle broke my skin, I moved. 
There is one on my knee I got from falling on concrete. I remember the sting of antiseptic spray even though my mom blew on the wound to keep it from hurting.  
The iron burn on my right shoulder has faded to a shadow, but I still remember the peeling, the blistering, and waking up in the middle of the night to feel as though I was lying on needles. I tried to imagine what it felt like for my dad when he got burned in the Navy. He had scars that stretched across most of his upper chest.  
My scalp keeps no scars, but I remember the chemical burns from the relaxers. I remember sitting in my closet asking God to make me look like Mulan or to a least give me her hair.  
My skin is a map of pain, of bumps and bruises and scars. Of falling down, of crying, of my mother holding me to her chest and humming her healing into my soul. 
I look at my scars, corporeal and ghost, and I remember concrete, a hot iron, tumbling on the third step to the top, of cuddling my heart behind my binder, of burning pictures in trash cans, of smashing my boot into a painted metal rose, throwing it away, then grabbing it out of the trash to recycle it, of ending a call and knowing that it was the last time, of blocking numbers, unblocking them, of lying fetal under a mountain of blankets hoping tomorrow will be the day I’ll have strength to get up. 
I hum my own healing now. 

About My Dad

I don’t remember my dad calling me pretty, but I remember when I was small, he lifted me up and took me to my bed upstairs when I had fallen asleep on the couch.  

I remember him holding a children’s bible when I was five and teaching me to read with fluidity, starting with creation.  
I remember him explaining the game of basketball, remember every car ride down to Bartow Arena. 
I can’t quite remember him graduating from UAB in the summer of 1999, but I know I was there, and it planted the seed that one day I would call UAB my alma mater too. 
I remember the worst whuppin my dad gave me when I didn’t do my work at school.  
I remember the flowers he brought me when I was inducted into the National Honor Society in high school. 
I remember him putting steak and potatoes the size of my head on my plate and me eating all of it. Now that I don’t eat meat, he brings me salads and wonders how I feed myself.  
I remember when he thought me and my sister were neglecting our blackness and made us watch MC Hammer’s greatest hits or Brother Al or a PBS series on Africa and the damages of colonization. I remember him dancing to 2 Legit 2 Quit with his old Navy cap pulled over his forehead.  
I was never my dad’s pretty princess. I didn’t need to be. He showed me that a black girl could be more than that. 

Open letter to Ross on the Subject of Sniffing

Yes, I sniffed you while in line at the AMC theater. You called me on it, your brows lifted into confused flat backed D’s. The girl at the ticket counter looked down at her shoes, bite her lip, looked at her screen, then towards the bar which was closed for the night. She was saving her laugh for later. 
You offered advice on the art of subtlety which I shall in future politely ignore.   
I cannot remember the way my grandmother smelled, what detergent she used on the blanket I wrapped myself in while watching cartoons on the floor. I cannot remember the smell of her kitchen, the soap she kept in bathroom, or books she owned. I cannot remember what brand of cigarettes my great grandma smoked, the names of the perfumes on her vanity, or the scent of the mildewed pages of the harlequin paperbacks she owned by the dozens. 
I don’t remember the smell of my momma’s old Ford, the black one with burgundy interior, but I can map for you the smear of the bug guts on the back seat.  
I can remember the smell of the boy I had a crush on when I was ten, fresh cut pine and rain misting on summer asphalt, and when it rains here, I remember lip smackers lip gloss, Limited Too, butterfly clips dissipating to glitter as a basketball smashed into the top of a girl’s head, the blood bubbling on her scalp and Coach Morgan with blue surgical gloves on telling me and my classmates to take a knee. 
Somewhere in your cologne, body wash, deodorant, and sweat was something I wanted to remember, a story to tell later, or a moment that lingered on the edge of memory that I wanted to relive again. Going to see Shrek with my uncle, cousin, and sister, smearing popcorn butter on my lips and puckering them with a soft smack, the scent of the hand soap at Festival 18 in Crestwood. Something in that moment made me lean over and breath deeply, audibly.  
Was is weird? To you and the girl behind the ticket counter, yes. 
But not to me. Sorry, not sorry. 

About Legacies 

My uncle bought me my first Harry Potter for Christmas when I was eight, and my momma read it with me, dramatizing each sentence with a flourish of her hand as though she too was flicking a wand. 
I use to hide under a blanket when my momma got to the scary part of the book or when it seem that Harry was doomed to fail and evil would triumph. She would stop, tap the top of my head, slowly peel the covers back, and ask,”Do you want me to stop.” 
I always shook my head, “This is the good part.”  
Reading with my momma taught me that language had drama, rhythm, soul, and could percuss the imagination into dance. I learned about storytelling from watching my family – my momma’s hand gestures, my father’s prayers, my sister boiling the next door neighbors hydrangeas to make shampoo. 
I didn’t know people went to school to be writers. No one in my family had done it, but I watched my dad, momma, and sister walk across a green and gold stage and knew one day it would be my turn. 
The summer before starting at UAB, I sat in the car with my dad. I was afraid to be an English major, a subject that had no clear post graduation career path, but my dad, the former navy man, the engineer, told me to believe in my dreams. He looked ahead at the road twitching his under lip to dislodge a fry crumb from his mustache, “Do work that doesn’t feel like work, that’s how you will have a good life.” 
I know my dreams are a privilege, and my pathway to pursue them was built by my family who labored their bodies and deferred their own dreams so that their children could have more than they did. 
The legacy of my family is more: give more, do more, and for the next of us, build a future that allows for greater hopes and dreams, more powerful realities, the unimaginable. 
My family has given me this, and one day, I will do the same.