Alone in the Night

“My mother would kill me if she got the chance. I would kill my mother if I had the courage.” Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid

What about giving birth
left you wearing envy like
a second skin, too tight to move
around in? Were her cries too
suffocating for you to exist in & so
you been hitting back, fighting
ever since you first held her
in your arms and heard her cry
knowing sometimes you would not
be the one who could stop her tears

Empty insults & closed fists are
not God’s gift and should not have
been yours either. How can you not see
how she cowers underneath the blistering
rays of your hate? Why are you trying to
teach her to hate herself while despising
that very hate? You force her to stand in
your shadow, cowering, crying, trying to hold
herself together and you hate her for always
falling apart.

Will you always teach her to ignore the sun &
force her into the night? As if though you haven’t
always belonged to the night, as if though
you have not spent an eternity trying to part the folds
of night and escape. You know the horror of
being enveloped in dark clouds that descend
like a mist, slowly overtaking you until
there is no you left. Did you just not want to be
left alone in the night? Is that why you chose to
keep her lost in the night? Is that
why?

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Some People

Some people will
argue that you
have never been raped,
will shove their
inconvenient truth
down your throat
like a too-soft cock
that’s unable to get hard.

They will demand proof
that the will to say no
was completely out of your hands
as if though privilege & position
can never be used as weapons

They will demand that you
prove your victimization, the
danger of any –ism is
people see what they want to see

They will pull the leaves off
flowers that are slowly dying
inside, pretending not to see
the delicate petals that are wilting
or the screams that are trapped
but always trying to get out.

Some people will tell you
that unless you’re
laying spread eagle &
somehow find the strength to
unmuffle the scream trapped
in your throat that
you’ve never really been raped,
not really.

As if though every no must be
spoken loudly in order to be heard &
softly-spoken resistance is
another form of desire. And didn’t you
know it all along? No,
this doesn’t feel right becomes
If Only for One Night.

Some people will try to convince you
that being raped is not about power, that it’s
about sex and that your skirts are too short,
your voice is too soft, and you really
wanted it all along. They will tell you
that monsters are only found under beds &
deep inside darkened closets. That you’ll never
find them in an office or even sitting beside you
on your couch.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

 

woman-silenced

Photo courtesty of GettyImages

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The Sidewalk

There’s this woman who sits outside a convenience store I pass sometimes. I first was drawn to her because it was strange for me to see a woman, who could easily be my mother, sitting outside on the ground. Surrounding her are large bags, like the ones we keep our trash in, but inside her bags were all her belongings. I had to stop and do something. I went in the store, bought me a tea and took her some money. The first couple of times that’s all I did was stop and give her money. But I couldn’t get her out of my mind. When I’d drive away from her, I’d sometimes have to stop and cry. Where’s her family, I kept wondering.

Every weekend I go looking for her. And I find her. Now, I talk to her. Sometimes our conversations make sense, other times the things she says seem more like snatches of memory from some time before.  I have called the police and told them I think she needs help. I’ve offered to take her to one of the city’s warming centers (sometimes the temps drop to the low 30s). I’ve written to news stations, suggesting someone go talk to her. I feel sure that someone, somewhere must be missing her. Surely, they must think about her the way I do when I can’t make it to that corner during the week. I worry about her. I’ve been wanting to write a poem that conveys my feelings for her. I haven’t written anything yet that I’m happy with. This might be because I’ve been so busy with my writing group assignments and working on the short stories for my upcoming book. Or it might be that familiar difficulty I have with expressing myself sometimes.

Anyway, this is what I have so far:

Sitting on the sidewalk
beside a stranger, like my mother
I do not recognize her but I know her

We sit there perched like birds, ready to take off
and soar at a minute’s notice. We have only stopped
in mid-flight. Our journey is not over.

I haven’t felt comfortable outside since I was a child.

I’m torn between staying and leaving
but when I do leave I want to make sure she will remember
me, how I tried to love her. I want her to cradle memories

of me like she holds tightly to the garbage bag holding
all her belongings. We are both bag ladies. In my bag
there’s leftover love, in her bag is a change of clothes, a blanket,
a four-leaf clover, a bubble gum wrapper, some things she’s found

she must have family somewhere missing her but when
I ask about them, she says “Sure I have family” and then she
wanders along a path where the language being spoken barely
registers in my ears. Will you remember me when I’m gone, I ask.

Turning to me she says, “They keep the doors locked at night. I can’t
be in a place like that.” My thoughts are like the cars whizzing by
on the street. Music drifts from car windows, somewhere a woman
laughs. Behind us children squeal and yell out.

I haven’t felt comfortable outside since I was a child.

I want to follow the sound of the children’s squeals, but I don’t
want to leave her alone. What will she do when she’s alone?
Where will she go? All doors are locked at night
Sometimes to keep people from getting in, mostly to keep us from
getting out.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Heat

When you got Lauryn Hill on the radio, a pen in your hand and a notebook, this is what happens:

It’s kinda hard to pinpoint
when I first knew
something was wrong. Sometimes I think
it was just the fact that
you were there.

Sometimes I think it was
the mirage-like quality of things,
the way heat seemed to be rising up
out of everything.

The night sky quivered like a woman
being fingered by her lover. The asphalt
street moved in waves, couldn’t seem to stay still
as if pleasure was running through her bones.
When I held out my hands, they moved
without consent from me
as heat rose from my pores. It felt like
I was losing me.

This can’t be real, I remember thinking.

I thought you were transparent, not totally there
or maybe that was just me knowing I’d always been able
to see right through you. But
when I reached out to touch you
I felt your warm skin beneath my fingertips.

This has to be a dream scene.
My feet have never so easily sank in the street
like walking on pillows or a deep feathery mattress,
sank so far I nearly disappeared.

But then you sank down beside me and
I knew this was more than just a dream.
It was reality. And when you touched me, for once,
it didn’t hurt. No pain accompanied your touch.
So I just let it be.
Let you be. With me.

In the back of my mind, the truth cowered
in a corner like a scared child, one who knew
that stars are just lamps in the darkness and the moon
is just a child’s drawing seen through a toy viewer
because anything is possible in a dream.

There are unlimited possibilities in the realm of dreams
but there are many truths too, to be faced
when the morning comes.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Very Superstitious

In one of the stories I’m currently working on, my protagonist, Ruby, purposely drops a mirror on the floor. The act is a defiant disavowal of the superstition that says, break a mirror and suffer seven years of trouble for it.

As I’ve been working on this story, I’ve thought a lot about African-American culture and how to suffuse it into the story. When Ruby first came to me, it was to tell me what she’d learned about love. About how her boyfriend has marred her beautiful face, an attempt to make her less attractive to other men, thereby ensuring that she would never be able to leave him. Why would she? No one else would want her now that she’s ugly, right? Maybe.

Anyway, since I first began writing this story, I have wanted this story to be set during the 1970s on Grant’s Corner, a neighborhood where my grandmother once lived with my dad, uncles, and aunt. I remember that place; it has become a part of my memories. Family. Love. Community. And superstitions. Those are all things I think of when I remember Grant’s Corner. And those are all things I want readers to pick up on when they read the story.

But, why superstitions? Well, because when my grandmother lived on Grant’s Corner, I can remember sitting behind the sofa with all the lights, appliances, and telephone off. We were forbidden from doing ANYTHING when God was doing his work (translation: it was storming outside). Naturally as I am infusing culture into my story about this young woman, I thought of other long-held beliefs and superstitions in the African-American community. So ingrained in our culture that we might not even realize other cultures aren’t aware of these beliefs.

Some of these superstitions roll off my tongue so quick that I hardly thought of them as superstitions. Below is just a few of the superstitions that are held as truth in the African-American community.

  1. If you place your purse on the floor, you’ll always be broke. I heard this one growing up and without even thinking about it, I’m very careful not to leave my purse on the floor.
  2. Young black males are cautioned against eating spaghetti prepared by anyone who’s not family, specifically mother or sister. The reason for this is that it is believed that a young woman might mix her menses blood with the spaghetti sauce, which will result in the young man falling in love with her.
  3. Don’t walk around the house in only one shoe. To do this, will result in the death of a family member. I was always told, “You’re going to walk someone out of the family.” Even today, when I’m getting dressed, I’m careful not to walk around the house in only one shoe.
  4. A man should be the first person to enter the house during the new year. Every New Year, my dad invites one of his male friends over to be the first man, who doesn’t live in the house, to enter my house. This is supposed to ward off bad luck.
  5. No washing on the last Friday of the old year or first Friday of the new year. This, too, could lead to bad luck.
  6. When you cut your hair, you must immediately burn it. If you don’t burn it, someone can get ahold of it and urinate on it, which will give them control over you.
  7. Don’t make fun of someone’s looks while you’re pregnant. To do so, will cause your unborn child to resemble the person you made fun of when they are born.
  8. If you allow small children to sweep the floor, they will sweep up unwanted guests.
  9. Speaking of sweeping the floor, if you happen to be sweeping the floor and the broom sweeps over the foot of someone, that person should immediately spit on the broom. If they don’t, it can lead to bad luck. I can remember family members becoming angry with me if I accidently swept their foot with the broom.
  10. A cold chill means that someone has just walked across your grave.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

 

 

*Note: There are WAY more superstitionsbroken-mirror that I discovered during my research (searching my own memory, talking to older family members, and internet research), but I only included a few here to show how varied and impactful superstitious beliefs are in the African-American community.

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You Wanted It As Much As Me, He Said

He said I
apologize.
I never meant to
hurt you. Ok. No.

That’s not what
he said, he told me
you wanted it
as much as me.

His smile blinded
me, but I knew no one
would believe me unless
they had experienced
the blinding light of
his smile.

I almost drove right
into a tree one night
on an unfamiliar street
because I was blinded
by bright headlights.

And that’s how I
almost lost me.

Only you can’t call it
rape if he’s smiling
when he fucks you.
Up. When he hears
the word rape, his smile
slips temporarily.

He’s been conditioned
to believe that rape
only involves screams
and the forceful
tearing of a hymen. He
can’t see how lies
and deception
purposefully used
can defile love. Can
leave a woman
feeling used and dirty.

It took two years
to wash the smell of
you off my skin.

But you knew, you
knew, you told me you
knew that what we had
would never last. You knew
that my words that my
promises were full of holes
that I said only
what you wanted me to say.

It’s true I did know, not that
he’d only fallen in love
with my words and so the
exchange of words
was nothing more than
flirtation, a temptation,
fresh oxygen to cleanse
away years of residue.

His own words never meant
anything, he knew that too.

Who taught him that, me or you?

Who knew in the winter
time that love could change
colors like leaves? That promises
could fall down to the bottom
of the sea like empty sea shells
and colorful rocks?

I walked along the beach
the other night, my feet lost
in the sand and my dreams
lost at sea. I knew. I’ve
always known. My mother told me
to be wary of a stranger’s smile.
She cautioned me that some
men smile
but they don’t really mean it.

Sometimes a smile is as
elusive as the rain and sometimes
love is a crutch
some never learn to use.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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The Stranger

This has been a difficult few weeks. I’ve watched my mother become a woman I don’t recognize. She’s always been so strong, so resilient, and her body is turning on her and there’s no defense strong enough to fight back. So, we’ve entered a period of adjustment. We must learn new ways of being mother and daughter. And honestly, I have struggled to write anything. I didn’t think I’d be able to write anything. And then tonight at the hospital, I glimpsed that other side of my mother. And the words, they just came. It’s an understatement to say love and appreciate your loved ones while you have them because one day, you won’t. Every lucid moment with her is a moment of preciousness. Every time I touch her warm skin or kiss her cheek, I hope she realizes how much she is valued. I love her so very much and it’s so hard to see her this way.

i hesitantly follow her
to places of total darkness,
afraid i will lose sight of
her, afraid i will get lost
too. in this new darkness
there is no time to wait for
my eyes to adjust, it happens
all so quickly. shapes
obscured by memories, lost in
a jumble of words marred by
confusion. she is no longer
my mother. she is a stranger.
i do not know her & i do not
want to know her. i
search for her in old photographs,
in eyes, frozen in time, i search
for clues—when did she first
start to leave me? where
can i find the missing pieces
of her? photos strewn across
my floor like land mines,
my life now a foreign land.
i trip & fall constantly. and
when i rise, always i
am bruised. this woman
does not belong to me.
she is a stranger. she is
not my mother. how did
i manage to misplace
someone who never bothered
to leave me?

peace & love,
rosalind

P.S. hold your loved ones tighter. love a little harder. because one day this will all be a memory.

 

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My Mother

i saw my mother
today
as she must have
saw me one day
so long ago

a precious sight
that doesn’t seem true

toddling, helpless
fumbling along the edges
of life, dropping
whatever she tried
to hold

a beautiful memory
unravelling
before my eyes

i saw shadows
of the woman who
was my mother
from days and years
before, unable to
look away, i struggled
to see the woman
she used to be

i held her hands
as she
must have once
held mine
afraid to let go

would you believe me
if i said i saw
all of yesterday
in the palms
of her hands?

tracing wrinkles
she accumulated
over time though
it seems like just
yesterday
when she was
so young,
lounging in the
front room
listening to music,
so different
from today
when music
soothed her,
made her sleepy
rocked her to sleep
like she’d once
done for me

treading carefully
along the life line
that stretched
across her palm
hesitating at the
breaks, the halting
lines, resisting
the good-bye

my dad told me
to be strong
for her & that’s why
i held my tears
inside
but once i
walked outside
the dam broke
& released all
the pain i was
holding inside

my first real
adult act
is caring for
the woman
i love with
the fullness of
memory & my
heart
just like she
used to do
for me

my first adult
act: learning
how to say
good-bye
to the woman
whose
heart beats
just like mine.
i heard it
faintly echoing
my own
as i held
my mother
close,
fighting
the inevitable
letting go.

peace & love,
rosalind

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Tough Love

Isn’t it funny how
tough love never manages to
feel like love at all? How
it feels more like hate.
No, not hate, but indifference.
And, of course, the irony of
those thoughts visiting her,
as she watches her mother
stuff her life in two plastic
garbage bags, isn’t lost on her.
How can you just let her leave
knowing she has nowhere at all
to go
? The question stings her
like that time when she’d been
riding her bike all evening and
she went to get off her bike
and the skin of her leg got caught.
in the tire spokes. She hadn’t been
thinking about being careful, but
only about moving on.
But the sting, it had forced her
to stop and think, to consider.
What should I be thinking about?
I’m not forcing her to leave.
If only she would just….Just what
?
She doesn’t know. Watching
her mother walking down the block,
away. Years of belongings stretching
the inside of garbage bags. Her gait,
unsteady yet determined, beneath
the weight of so many years of
history. For weeks her mother
has been known to live behind
the corner store where she used to
send her only daughter
to buy cigarettes and tall cans of
beer, a note from her mother
balled in her hand. One time
a man lured her behind the store.
He’d stood in line behind her and
followed her outside. She stopped
only because he called her name.
To hear your name on the lips
of another can be dangerous in so
many ways. And that’s why
she never told her mother
who she knew would not understand,
her mother would scold her
for being silly, for being naïve. She
thinks now of the cold
penetrating the old coat her mother
wears and the blood spilled
on the pavement beneath her mother’s
feet in that place where she will sleep tonight.
After all these years, will it still be there
covered in layers of yesterday’s grime?
Yes, she is sure it will. Spilled blood
never loses its memory. And blood binds
across years, across miles, across distances.
This is not the first time they have both
decided to go their separate ways. It’s just
tough love, she thinks, ignoring the tears
on her own face, as her mother once again
walks away. Isn’t tough love walking away
when you really want to stay? Briefly
she considers running after the woman
who gave her life, to stop her, to love her
softly, but she knows she won’t ever
be able to go back there again. And so
she just stays and convinces herself
that love can be both hard and soft.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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If He Had Stayed

What if he had stayed?
If all his sweet lies were
strung together to form a bridge
that he’d be willing to travel
across, one way? What if
all those sweet words you shared
were more than gentle lies to rest
your naked back and exposed fears on?
If all the words you shared could have
built a bridge to somewhere other than
nowhere? What if love didn’t require
obligation or acceptance in the court
of public opinion, wasn’t so easily
asphyxiated by wounds left open and
festering for too long? By closed lives
and obvious lies? If he had stayed
wouldn’t that be just another lie?
It seems the most honest thing he did
was to choose to walk away. Because
if he had stayed, you’d always be wondering
if staying was truly a choice or
the softest deceit of settling?

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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