“We’re girls, women, human, not a burden.”
“We’re girls, women, human, not a burden.”
If you could talk to one person from the past/present for one hour, who would it be?
I would take just one hour with you, Dad.
and memorize your knuckles
and count the pace between your jokes
look at the stance of your earlobes
allow the electricity to race through my veins as we touch hands
and allow my eyes to connect your pores that capture your
favorite after shave
attach the scent of your breath
have you explain.
ask you the really tough questions
in this softly short period of time
tell you why I chose this place. next to this tree. I love silver dollar trees.
answer more. give me more detail. this is when you’ll see yourself. and know I am so much of your explosive hustle.
and then I’d let you see me cry for the first time ever. for two straight minutes. until your eyes that are mine meet again.
My Dad never mentioned his grandfather from his Dad’s side. It’s like my grandfather just fell onto the face of the planet with no father. Now, my research finds his Dad in a boarding house as a child. Perhaps he was an orphan or he ran away. But my Dad had an immense love and knowledge of his grandmother and her family fight for their native land in Oklahoma. Anyway, my Dad’s father was a musician. He played the trumpet. He frequented around the jazz scene in Kansas City down on 18th and Vine. He was educated. His back up plan was being an English teacher. He served in the Korean War. He fell in love with my grandmother. They married and had two sons. He loved my Dad and his brother. I suppose that is where my Dad learned that seamless love for his grandmother. Then my grandfather didn’t want to be an English teacher. He wanted to be a musician. But all his friends were in Europe playing in bands. He went to the war remember… Then he didn’t love my grandmother anymore. And he didn’t love my Dad or his brother. I remember my grandfather singing to me. He was tall and thin with a gap between his front teeth like me. I remember khaki pants and a black hat. My father remembered the police being called. He remembers slammed doors and black jack beatings. He remembers empty gin bottles and knives. He remembers kidnappings and abandonment. That’s the first chapter.
My Dad stayed away from home. He ate meals at friends homes because my grandfather cooked half raw hamburgers because the doctor said he would die if he continued to drink on an empty stomach. My Dad was teased a lot. He wore third passed down clothing and the same one pair of shoes all year. So he developed a quick wit and quicker right hand punch. And he was a gentleman because his grandmother would have it no other way. And he knew what praying with purpose meant. And his poker face earned him instant street credibility. And he was a fast runner and loyal to the game of fostering respect. He earned the friendship of my uncles and won the heart of my mother. He loved her. He said I came about after them messing around one day after school. They were 16. He got a job at Church’s chicken and bought my mother food home. Then, some say it was an attempted robbery some say it was my father being witty. But, he was shot. And paralyzed. And then he didn’t love my mother anymore and moved to another state away from me. That’s the second chapter.
He started over in a new city. And later told me stories of girlfriends with snakes and winning dance contests in his wheelchair. He had a devoted love to his mother even though she never came back for him when she moved and his father kidnapped him. He sometimes called me. He sometimes visited when he came back to visit Kansas City. That was very weird looking at somebody who had the same eyes and chin and cheekbones and smile. I would turn my head but he would stare at me. My uncles still had a sincere respect for my father. My mother was married now and I had a younger sister and brother. And my dad’s father was still mean to my father. And one day the time ticked and the gun went off. There were no prison accommodations for my father being in a wheelchair so it was self-defense with no trial no nothing. And my father never came back to Kansas City. And 26 years went by. That’s the third chapter.
After everyone had left the room, he told me he was afraid I was going to come in and slap him. He was nervous I was going to curse him out in front of everyone. Because of the 26 years. That never crossed my mind. I wanted to see if we still had the same cheekbones and smile. We did. We also discovered we prefer brown liquor and we’re not embarrassed to curse wherever. Our combined comedic timing kept the conversation easy and flowing. He wanted four things, (1) that I look him in the eye and say I forgive him (2) that I spend the night so we can talk and he can stare at me (3) we keep the television turned on with his favorite video game, “Call of Duty” on the home screen and (4) his hand held bible stay on the hospital tray. I gave him all but #2. I spent the night over my cousin’s house. My father died. That is chapter four.
He was at peace with all he had done in life. He had space in his heart to justify everything and have no regret. He told me stories upon stories that filled 26 years but in none of them did he try and justify why he wasn’t there for me. He simply thought I would be better without all he was carrying. Me forgiving him was his primary goal in January of 2009. Everyone knew my name at his funeral services. People that had gone on my website and bought my books and cd’s wanted my autograph. He was my public relations person in the Midwest and I didn’t even know. He told everyone about me. I was this mystery daughter that he described as a go-getter. They told me 26 years worth of stuff on me. Things that I didn’t even know he knew. That is chapter five.
And all these chapters have a direct impact on my mental health. My emotional capabilities as well. The chapters set the parameters of how much of a risk I’ll take in life. How much I will let one get away with before I respond. That is why this book will be written. So I can demonstrate to others that parents being there or not being there does matter and generational cycles are as real as the sun in the sky. Love and hate can easily be mixed with the same atoms. The proof is my life paralleled with the chapters of my Dad. That is chapter 6.
from the book, “yardwork”
My father died in February. Around the 22nd or so. I purposely misplaced the obituary and forgot the date. It was the year 2008 or 2009. It was such a blur but I know I was living in Atlanta at the time.
He was my biggest fan but I didn’t know. He was consistent with inconsistency. Or maybe it’s “we” were consistent with inconsistency. But usually the child is allowed to blame the parent so I said “he”. We weren’t consistent like the hurricanes that you expect every year. We were more like tornadoes in the south. It can happen but it would be a surprise. Except we never made the news. Not together at least. So that was the weather of our relationship.
I called in December, around the holidays cause that’s what you’re supposed to do. His girlfriend answered and told me he was dying. They had given him a few months to live. He told me he was dying a few years before that, so I kind of didn’t believe her. I can’t remember where he was or why she answered the phone. But then he picked up and said, “hello”.
My mother taught me how to make a living.
My father showed me how to create a life to live.
She was deemed responsible.
He was deemed selfish.
… I want to be selfishly responsible from here on out.
Saturday afternoon truth
told by thick brown hands,
stories of survival and struggle until both
sound like all the names of the black mamas in the neighborhood
Hymns and laughter
imparted in between sections of greased scalps
that smell like coconut or yesterday’s frying oil
Here, little girls get to disappear
feel their mother’s heart beat
as her fingertips massage away her little girl worries
not turning the jump rope fast enough
getting picked last during recess for dodge ball
on the floor between her mother’s legs
the little girl’s father appears in a new light
fresh and foul
like discounted gizzards
she learns why to save
why the pulled out back seat of her grandfather’s Cadillac is a
treasure in the garage
safe Saturday rituals become
sanctified Sunday religion
and all this from sitting in between her mother’s legs
getting her hair
If I could rename her, I would call her Oya. She brought the rain/the storm/the thunder and lightening my heart needed.
I thought my womb would stretch/hips expand/body open for all my children to breath life.
I never imagined my teacher would come to me, age 11/a reflection of my brokenness/an unrelenting stare/unyielding hunger to be whole.
There was no escaping. A time to heal had come, and so began the cycle of faith and fear.
I never imagined my daughter as a savior. There would be nothing immaculate about her conception. How I became a mother would be by birth. But here she is, no marks to prove my body made room for her/to prove to my soul was given time to prepare for her. But she is here, breathing in all of my dreams as if I whispered them to her as she tossed and turned in my body.
She is a sphinx. The fire burns but never destroys. I have witnessed her sift through her own ashes at least three times. For that, I do not take credit. I am only here to remind her she has been resurrected before.
I relish in every raindrop/vigilant through every storm/faithful when the lightening strikes because I know rebirth is on the other side. She has taught me to bury the dead/to forgive myself. It is her grace I am most grateful for/her willingness to allow me to grow/to always allow me to hold her. Even in the darkest hours, when our arms can’t seem to stretch around our bodies, I hold her in my heart/in my prayers. I carry her like child in womb in my soul.
When warriors / raise daughters
We don’t pass her a Baton / tell her to run /
We pass her a Machete / tell her to grip it / firm and steady/
let it be an extension / of your hand / plant your feet / bend your knees /
if you raise your arm / do not speak /with eyes at your feet
/ spot neck in your periphery / with strength and precision/ cut long, hard and deep
This is your life / live it / defend it
/ whatever comes for you / be ready
“I was raised on stories of return and that hope is still alive in my father’s eyes.”