Memoir Poems

Every time I sit down to write a poem, I'm conscious of the fact that no one poet writes the same, and I'm grateful because poetry would be a bore. There are as many different styles and subjects, as there are poets writing them. It's about choice and if we're to broaden our readership and make poems accessible to most, we need to reach out and grab new readers. Variety is the beauty of poetry for me, and that's why I read poetry from all levels, from ethnic and non-ethnic writers. It's exquisite. It's memorable that way. I just love it.

Poems rock, roll into blues, jazz and all sorts of stuff. I like to think of poems as the belle of the ball, but she's unique as is the genres of fiction, memoir, biography, narrative fiction, etc. Reading poetry of all styles is glorious, resonating, enlightening, and educational. Deprivation is an ugly word in my world. I never limit myself in reaching across a terrain in which I might be uncomfortable. I don't want a comfort zone because I would cheat myself of all the beauty and ugliness that makes me a well-adapted African-American woman. Women have lived through horrors of domestic violence, rape, child sexual assault, patriarchy, property of men, inquality of all kinds, and the denial of our rights to vote. Some still do get trampled on daily.

I say that's something we need to take control of before somebody gets smart and figure out how to turn history around. I'm cognizant that many of the forced rules we follow as women were designed by men. We may want to bury that knowledge, but it's in my face every day -- still. Sometimes, it's in your face and painful because we know somebody suffering, or we may be survivors suffering from the aftermath with depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorders. Even going to the movies disturbs us.

I was bothered about the movie adaptation of "For Colored Girls..." because I thought it would be more gritty than the stage version I saw in the late '70s. I was right but I should never deny the rawness in movie life, a microcosm of our world. Besides, if we live in urban areas like I grew up in, reaity is just a front door away. Sometimes it crawls or forces itself inside. As a young girl, every day I passed a wine corner on my way to school or on the path to the corner store. Without ugliness, beauty couldn't exist because we would have no barometer to measure beauty against.

This week I've decided to publish a few of my memoir poems, which are experiences of mine, people I know, and relatives who've gone home. These few are part of a collection. As my former, male poetry professor described my work: "It's harsh originality." So I've picked the less harsh ones.

The Corner

The men stood at the corner of 10th
and Dickinson -- cold or hot as it was,
backs against the world,
dreams buried in their shoes,
fate's a grounded cigar butt

Tenant farmer said,
"Cotton and tobacco work's done."
No pink paper or jobless pay
They waited, wished and worried:
Does anybody want strong backs
to haul or chop wood,
bag coals, plow land,
or clean out garages?

Dad hated to stand and lean:
Hopelessness runs through
their veins like a festered sore,
pumping blues through hearts,
bodies, and pores
These men drink their food;
the blues has got them
and left only a pocketful of pride

Smoked a pack of Camel
between them
Curls of gray smoke floated
from parched lips.
On frigid mornings,
they blew on hands
and tucked them inside
torn coat pockets.

A few nickels and dimes buy
cups of coffee
Bubbles overload their bellies
and hearts go thump, thump
Later they hopped a pickup truck.
Work's done, spirits called,
"Relax your tired bones,
free your mind."

Dad -- sometimes -- slouched home,
broke, angry and guilty:
Bread and sausage money for supper -- Gone.
Hunger in eyes of his children: Too much.


 Image of Heart
(For Helen Marie)

You died and left me a baby tiny as a teapot
I cannot see if I wear your face
or clear these blurry eyes;
my mother-thirst dry as rye

Imagined your arms embracing me
listened for a voice never to be heard:
Your electricity envelopes me
Your scent of mint breath swirls inside me

I searched for you in grave yards,
mountains, streams,
backyards, and gardens
Flashbacks of nurture as unimaginable
as rain gold in the Sahara.

Neither I nor my ten children,
who don’t salute a mother’s tongue,
can sculpt an image of you; the mother
whose hands couldn’t shape my world

Until You're Dust

The smell of azaleas drifts up my nose
like liniment on a windy day in ’83
I didn’t have my 357 magnum
to defend myself.

When you shot me in the back
you lied, lied and lied
until prosecutors let you go.
Im dust but you not free.

They bury me in a city cemetery
while you strut
and act cool in a downpour.
Look-a-here, you demon:
You will be dust soon.

Let's be friends

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