This morning, I followed a link to a NPR story about Kitty Genovese. For those of you unfamiliar with her, she was killed in 1964 by a man who was out looking for someone to kill. Her story became popular because of the contributions it made to studies on the bystander effect, and how a victim is more likely to receive help from one or two witnesses than a group of people. Supposedly, 38 people were unwilling to help Genovese, who was killed in three separate attacks by the same man. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the story about a new book written about the incident. The author claims to debunk some of the events that have been written about concerning Miss Genovese’s murder.
Thinking about the murder of Kitty Genovese made me think of the woman who cried for help outside my window one night. My son came to me one night and told me he heard sounds outside his window and I immediately got up and ran in his room to investigate. I was afraid to look out, but was able to make out that a woman was being attacked outside our house. I called the police. Turns out a prostitute was being stabbed and had almost been killed outside our house. This shook me up so bad. It upset me to know that someone had almost had their life taken from them and that it had almost happened so close to my family.
Well, this morning, thinking of that woman I never got to meet, I thought of Sugar. Sugar is my favorite novel by one of my favorite authors, Bernice McFadden. Even though the book is about a prostitute, I have read that book many times. After my own fight with trying to get the police to clean the streets near my house, I fell in love with Sugar (the prostitute). You see, as a reporter, I’d written many stories about the prostitution that police were seeming to turn a side-eye on and allowing it to happen. It made my neighborhood look dirty and I wanted it to stop. I knew I couldn’t just write about my neighborhood, though, so I put a business angle on it. How was the presence of prostitutes hurting local businesses? I wrote several stories and collaborated with other journalists on stories about prostitution and how it hurt business. I won a couple of awards for those stories too. (http://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2007/aug/24/prostitution-plagues-memphis-neighborhoods-businesses/) But, when I read Sugar, I fell in love with a prostitute for the first time. Saw her as a woman, not unlike me. And I, of course, wanted to write a poem about her. I couldn’t find the words though. They eluded me.
Then, today, everything fell into place. I wrote the poem I’ve been trying to write since I read Sugar over a year ago. I wasn’t even thinking about that when I read about Kitty Genovese. And I certainly had no idea that Kitty’s story would make me think of the nameless prostitute whose life was saved by my actions and my son’s actions. Nor did I expect it all to lead me back to Sugar. But somehow that’s exactly how it happened. So, here’s the poem:
Sugar Ain’t Always Sweet
Sugar ain’t always sweet.
Sometimes it’s something just
to cover up all the bitterness.
Did I deserve to die,
to have my cries go
unnoticed, unanswered, to
fall hollow on deaf ears, ears unwilling
to save me? Why did I deserve my fate
because you tried to keep me safe by
telling me to avoid a life in the streets,
because you stared hard at me, trying
to impart dignity to me, not understanding that
dignity had been stripped away from me
a long time ago. The first time, in fact, that
I felt the need to undress in order to unload stress
of paying my rent, of keeping lights on,
of feeding my children –my daughter and son.
You fling hateful epithets in my face, words that
slide down my face like the saliva of hate
because obviously you fail to see nobody could hate me
more than I already hate myself. The dope that flows
through my veins keeps my head bowed so my eyes
don’t rise up to reveal my own inner shame.
With every layer of clothing I peel away,
I pull away another layer of pain inflicted by
my daddy, mother, brother or uncle. But it never
stays put away for long. The time always comes when
I have to put the pain back on.
Somewhere along the way, I learned
to drape on the armor of “Fuck you,
this is my life and I’m making that money!”
but don’t be fooled by my hard words and my
hard life. I’m just a little girl inside who always
dreamed of one day being someone’s wife.
I’m just a little girl inside, trying to hide away
from all the pain that litters my life. I’m a little girl
who wants to be loved but at the end of the day,
I need to be paid. And those who pay me
to lay down and offer an imitation love act
are just as empty as me and you. So, why not
take the money and run when we’re all running
and hiding from something or someone?
The only difference between me and you
is you open your legs wide to accept positive
gratification inside, through work promotions, social
climbing, and kids who excel at school and I open
my legs to accept the pain that broke me
in the beginning, when I was nothing but a little girl.
I wear my pain, made it my badge of shame, while trying
to fight fire with fire, and you, you placed yours on a
shelf in the back of your mind, learned early on that
fire can’t diminish fire, only makes it grow bigger, become
an all-consuming blaze that burns your face, your spirit,
your clothes, your hair, and you. Instead you cover
the fire that attempts to consume you with tiny granules
of Sugar cubes. A syrupy sweet cover-up for pain you
learned how to hide. One day I’ll let you teach me how
to hide, but until then I got to make money
‘cuz the bill collector don’t care about the skeletons
in my closet, the ice in my heart, or the pain in my eyes.
So I lay on my ass, close my eyes, open my legs and
welcome pain inside. I hope this time the john only
stabs me with his penis and not the knife he has to
hide for those times when someone tries to unveil
all the pain that he’s carrying inside.
Well, this morning I followed an unexpected path to get to a place I’d been wanting to get to for quite some time. This is just a rough draft of the poem, but I’m glad to have ended up where I did. Perhaps inspiration can show up in unexpected places and when you least expect it. Just keep doing what you love and sometimes the story or the poem will find you.
Happy writing and reading peeps!
Peace & Love,