Love letter to my black family

I look in the mirror and dissect myself. The darkness of my skin. The shape of my nose. My too close together eyes. My nearsightedness. My eyelashes sparse, but long. My collarbones. The goldfish birthmark. My curly, frizzy hair. My long fingernails. I see myself as a mosaic of you, my cousins, my aunties and uncles, my grandparents, my greats, my great greats, five generations away.

Beauty was discovering you, here, in my own image, here, in the language I crafted to celebrate you.

No sound is more powerful than the names we give each other. We die with two names, the one we said to the world and the one said at barbecues.

I have sat on stoops, on stairways between the grown folks and children and listened. Listened and learned how to speak with love.

Our love language is laughter. We laugh our way to healing.

To the white teacher who called my mother ugly. To the white mother who called my uncle a nigger. To the white cops who beat my uncles : your grandchildren and great grands will read about my beautiful black family and love them the way you were afraid to. They will know them by name and the cartography of their imagination will have a space occupied by my black mother. By my black uncles. By my black grandmother.

Our love is defiance. In spite of everything love. Until it hurts love. Until it makes us angry. Until we are happy again.

I cannot remember the sweetness of the peppermint and Pepsi my auntie put in my mouth when I was knee high to a church pew, but I remember the sweetness of her laugh, rich with smoke and ruby red lipstick that sometimes got caught on her teeth.

I cannot remember my grandmother holding my infant body, cradling me close to her heart, but I remember our last hug, her tiny chest pressed into my developing one, the smile in her eyes magnified behind her glasses.

I still feel her laugh in my bones.


How to understand a quiet woman

I said with my eyebrow, the word bitch is too comfortable in your mouth. But you’re progressive, pro-black, pro-feminist the same way the white woman who sat across from me was progressive when she asked “so, how is the drug problem in your high school?”

When I looked out the window while you played your garage band song, that was me saying I don’t give a fuck about your garage band song. My smile was a good ole southern “bless your heart.”

I grabbed your hair because it was in my face, not because I thought it was pretty. It was greasy and smelled like gym. Use dry shampoo and stop skipping leg day. You are built like the WB frog.

When I sat in the corner of the classroom and wrote rather than talked to you, I was saying I’d rather construct an entire universe and put white people at the center of it than listen to Lil Wayne.

You must learn to listen to my smile. The ones that don’t reach my eyes are the ones that are saying you ain’t shit.

Nail filing is the language of the unbothered. So is blogging.

There were moments when I closed my eyes or stared up at the sky or ceiling. That was me envisioning not being near you, escaping to solitude, imagining the freedom of stretching out and your body not being there, of wishing I had driven instead, of calculating the cost of a Lyft.

When I didn’t hug you goodnight at my dorm room door, that was goodbye. That was don’t call me. Waving was me saying, I need you to disappear.

When I hugged my notebook over my chest that was me saying stop sexualizing a minor. That was your only warning.

Me giving you those earrings back was a

critique of your fragile masculinity.

Me pressing my cold feet into yours was my way of saying you’re selfish.

That moment I put my phone down and turned my music off was my consent to listen to the bull shit you were about to say.

Me pushing you away, physically with my hands was a clear no. No I don’t want to dance with you, your worn out deodorant, or your day drinking breath. I’m not going to smile for you, tell you my name, let you type your number in my phone. Listen to you call me bitch for ignoring you.




Zero room for negotiation.

SOC: Falling

Cupping my hands around my eyes, I tried to see my sister, cousin, uncle, and aunt nearly two hundred feet above me. Even with my shoes planted on the ground, I felt my stomach clinch as though I too dangled above the ground waiting for the free fall. It happened in less than ten seconds. Someone over a speaker began a count down, but before she could reach eight, a mechanism released and the passengers plummeted down. There were screams and whoops of joy, a piston hiss of wind, then it stopped. Everyone disembarked.

It was the first summer acrophobia was open at Six Flags, the first summer I wasn’t too short to ride the rollercoasters. But I didn’t. I kept my feet on the ground.

I don’t know when I began to fear heights.

My earliest memory is climbing from a second floor balcony onto a stairwell, and down to the ground floor. I pushed the little tyke slide to the railing and kicked my legs over. There was a playground with sand and a sea-saw around the corner from our apartment building. When I got there, I sat on the sea-saw pushing myself from the earth, trying to will my four-year-old legs to have the power to defy gravity before falling back down.

Falling in dreams is interpreted as a fear of losing control or a sense of powerlessness.

I dream of trying to fly like my four-year-old self, always pushing away from the earth I know I am destined to fall back down to. Dreaming of flight is about escape, but my pragmatic mind, even in dream, knows it is time to keep my feet on the ground.

9/11 lingers in my mind when I am too far above street level, looking down on a world made miniature by distance. I remember the falling man, his body posed like Superman,his pinstriped pants, his unknowable face. That image is an accident, the unlikely alignment of his body and the infinitesimal click of a camera shutter. In reality when he fell, he could not control what was happening. He only had the choice to jump.

Part of my fear of heights is the sense that what lies below my feet isn’t solid enough. It is not enough to not look down. I have to convince my brain that what I’m stepping on can hold my weight.

I wrote a haiku about my fear of climbing Amicalola Falls on a 4×6 index card. Somewhere in a box dusted with spider webs, it’s bookmarking my favorite spot.

A fear of heights is just as much a fear of falling, just as much a fear of losing control.

I hate Fifty Shades of Grey. For its bad writing and showing a white man abusing a woman with zero consequences.

I took twenty minutes looking for a soy wax candle in Tokyo Valentino at midnight. I tried to explain sensation play. Carefully controlling stimuli. Warm wax. Cold ice. Testing the sensitivity of skin. Lesser known erogenous zones. But Christian Grey and his stupid red room ruined the conversation.

I told him he was unromantic and emotionally cold. He told me I had trust issues.

Taurean women are said to be the most deeply devoted and loving, but easily prone to jealousy and sensitive.

When jumping rope, the girls would rock back and forth, waiting for the right moment for the rope to arch overhead before jumping in. It took me awhile to accept that sometimes, you will get hit by the rope, and that’s ok.

Open Letter 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.