december is grief. our sun is only a star, carving
my throat open when i swallow light, tangible. i see
you in the gaping hollow of your absence, around
molten edges, and my mother calls me hanuman.
my mother says, be better, says, you’ll do more like
a shattering femur.
i split my chest apart, split my skin, blood-slick hands
wrapped around a dark handle and blade limned by
decemberlight, and your touch-worn notes fall out.
one day, we’ll be done with this:
one day, you’ll leave your fingerprints soft on my
pieridaelungs, and i’ll hew fruit apart while your legs
dangle from a marble countertop, and i’ll slip grocery
lists and sticky notes against the gentle harpcurve
of your ribs, and –
december is a ravaging. i bleed, an arrowhead excised
from my flesh, still dripping red from my curled hand,
and my mother braids my hair. i watch the sky.
after Sabrina Orah Mark
Some thought it was because of all the men I wasn’t fucking. Others thought it the men I was. Still, a friend said it might do me good, make me less lonely. By then, I had wet dreams of masturbating alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I ate sandwiches under the desk and they called me by name on the loud speaker. I didn’t breathe. The mouse jumped out of a box of books. The kids chased it into the woods. These woods’ kids had no mothers, just leaves. Perhaps cicada murmur. Leaping toad fingers. I was lost in the forest tapestry. My white walls had nail teeth that bit the print still. I named the morning hush Not Baby, But Something that Needs Care, and then Poverty, or the Outsides of Poets and finally If Drunkenness Were Closer to God. One night I thought I made it out, but it was only under. I stripped my clothes unlike a newborn. But like kudzu vines. Like something I saw when I walked too far. Hanging in effigy of the swamp. Maybe the past. Back then, we hopped the pool fence and jumped in with the vacuum snake. It wasn’t the snake that made us turn, but what walked in the corner, before cameras, by the trash cans and beach chairs and concession stand and lights, with dark stone eyes. They were all there, rolled up, ready to be fed. At home, there was a new still I didn’t yet name. With aloe arms. I thought, Here Could Be Where She Doesn’t Light. I knew that it would die. Every day closer to my blood like tired miners sleeping on the job.
Prompt: “We are aware that the world does not respond to mental illnesses as they do to physical illnesses. How has the lack of mental illness awareness in your family affected you and how did you form your aspirations while conflicting with your environment? Be honest and share your truth (Lacy 2018).”
I remember my feet dragging against the floor as I was being escorted by my mother and three detectives through the East Orange Police Department. My uncle, Phillip, had just been shot and killed. I was terrified to be surrounded by police. I wrapped my arms around the stuffed giraffe that I had dragged everywhere with me. It kept me comfort, it was the only thing that I knew would never leave me. The interrogation itself was ruthless. The police asked me if I had ever seen my uncle “sniff stuff” or if I had ever seen him have a gun. I was only five years old.
I know now that my uncle had fit the description of other black men wanted by police. My uncle Phillip was no killer, he was a law abiding citizen who really enjoyed cheesesteak sandwiches and WWE reruns. Most importantly he was human. I wish they had put more effort into finding his killer than finding him guilty of crimes he would never commit.
My innocence was gone from then on. However, school was always an escape. My uncle instilled a love of literacy onto me. He would show me how to do crossword puzzles and read Green Eggs and Ham. Reading allowed me to escape the harsh reality that I was facing early on and essentially opened up a new world to me. Once my senior year of high school began, I became passionate about pedagogy. From then on, I began to form my aspirations to teach children in inner-city schools and encourage them to be curious, open, and filled with grit. Just as my educators did for me. My teachers recognized my passion for writing early on and engraved in my head that my passions could take me far.
Even though I enjoyed school, to pretend that I was not struggling mentally was criminal. My family ignored the fact that I needed therapy for years. In fact, the situation feels like it was swept under the mat. It was not until I took action and spoke up about my struggles that I began therapy at the age of sixteen. For over ten years I was carrying loads of trauma on my shoulders. Unfortunately, my family does not see the importance in therapy, they believe in internalizing struggle and letting it continue to hinder them. I want to break these generational curses.
As I matured, I realized how much my uncle’s story and my family’s history formed my aspirations to change the negative connotation that surrounds treating mental health in the black community. I wanted to become who I needed when I was the five year old girl who clenched a stuffed animal in one hand and fear in the other.
Now I get a chance to further my passions into the world, while still learning about myself and unlearning some of the traits that I’ve inherited. My path to teaching is something that I could not foresee, because as a young girl I was encapsulated with fear. I was constantly told that I did not matter, by the law and by my family. Because of the constant ridicule, sometimes I am too hard on myself. I hold myself to high standards because subconsciously I believe that failure isn’t an option. However in order to learn, I must make mistakes. My first mistake in adulthood was believing that it would only take four years to become an educator, but in reality it takes a lifetime. I’m in the process of learning about myself and life around me. I’m going to teach through my lenses and bring about change in the world one student at a time.
I see her and I know her
She has years and hair
and curves and commas in
her bank account. She has
things I will have but do
not currently possess.
She has flames and thighs
and lightning and wings.
She has power. Most
importantly, she has
patience and an
outstretched hand. I
swear to God I see her,
legs and locks and bare
feet on a throne of her
own making, forged of
sweat and dedication and
self-belief. Her palm is
soft but it is
open, offering a
hand up. A leg up. A word
of advice and
She offers love and
wisdom and asks nothing
of me but that I answer
the call. That I find
and secure and utilize the
building materials of the
throne on which she is
seated. I see her, and I
am in the throne room. My
hand pierces the veil of
time and I draw close,
hungry, blood in my nose
and dripping from teeth.
I see her, I worship her.
I am close to becoming
her, subsuming the mirage
and the myth until my
hips fill her ghostly
outline, and my eyes burn
like victory from her
He said eat a cat or breakfast
He said bigger beautiful same thing
He said how dare you love isn’t a reason
He said you stay
He said drink my tears I don’t have any
He said I did it for you your love is broken
He said here’s some gas money
He said here’s a fig your vagina is tight
He said flowers
He said don’t let them drown
He said there’s darkness inside you it isn’t me
He said I’ll pay you to quit
He said five dollars less you won’t kill the bees
He said I have guns in the house don’t snoop
He said you will remember me but how
He said it’s my house you just have a key
He said you’re the bed I’m in
He said I’m not angry anymore
He said I’m losing are you
He said less questions it’s hard to talk
He said you’re using me I don’t know how
He said to live love is pain
He said the shower is dirty
He said it didn’t used to be this way
He said I taped it up the roaches came out
He said I know you’re tired let’s recess
He said here’s some aspirin
He said no no that’s too much
He said come on here’s a drawer climb in
The tide comes in
And I jump feet first
Into the watery shelter
Unaware of the jellyfish and sharks
That lie in wait
I swim, mostly doggy paddle,
With no heed or recollection
Of the bruises, open wounds,
and scars from my last leap