Braided

Let’s untwist to 2003:
My aunt slams a pair
of size fourteen Skechers
at my feet. They are
large and lumpy like
the Appalachian Mountains
Boy, you betta wear these
shoes I bought you.
You can’t be worrying
about what people say
at that school about
your feet looking big.
Betta man up! 

Now swing back to 1994:
Grandma’s sabretooth stare
always gets you together,
Boy, what you looking at?
You know you can’t
get no sweet potato custard
until you get your lesson.
Look at the hawk over her head,
the American flag rag
she uses to wipe grit and filth
like what they put her through,
on our way to school,
those racists use to throw
rocks at us, and these days
they still throw rocks,
just in different ways. 

Loop to 2007: my aunt’s
Talladega tongue, Honey,
you need to stop ordering
all this Sean John and Jordan
stuff, making them rich.
You need to be saving all
your pennies because
college ain’t cheap. Have
you heard of inflation!
Look at how she makes
my pockets plump.
Look at me seize my
third degree, carry light,
stand tall with my big feet.

Grandma, with a grey
bushy wig, endurance
branded on her spirit,
teaches you how to say
damn in the most derogatory
tone, especially for when
people try to get over on you.
Grandson, you might not
always win the fight, but
you always want to
go out fighting even if
you got to hurt their feelings.
When walls cave in and
life’s dagger doesn’t want you
to be alive, she teaches you
to kneel into yourself and
unravel Jehovah.

Look at that ring of fire around
my aunt, who exiles any
lowdown man who doesn’t
measure up to the man
she taught me to be.
Look at her. Look at we,
teaching me how to be
a Tasmanian rebel, to fly
against the current, to keep
my nose twice as clean.
Look at my duality. Look at
these firecrackers who
made me and this ain’t
no damn tribute either.

This is the stone truth
about steadfast women with
tiger stripes who lace up
brown boys with thick bark
until they flourish to tall
oak trees. Look at them
both, how they saddle in
with rope, grip you and
send you over the sun.
Watch them, these two women
spiral around me,
and lock at the end,
and watch me wear them
down my back, braided,
just like a warrior.

 

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