BY DOMINIQUE CHRISTINA
Editor's note: these poems have previously been published in They Are All Me.
For Emmett Till
"Southern trees bear a strange fruit.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root."
In this photo he's laughing and
there's no cotton gin tied 'round his waist.
He's not stretched into swollen limbs.
His eyes are still hazel and
recognizable, two neat white rows of perfect teeth
sit totem-like in his mouth and
the world didn't know him because
he'd not been murdered yet.
He's still slipping into the kitchen to
get another piece of cornbread
while his mama ain't lookin'.
He'll mash it with his fingers,
drink some buttermilk and laugh
with his eyes and they're still hazel
and bright like stars in uppercase and
ain't nobody gouged 'em out
or shut 'em closed and when he goes
to school he'll do a silly dance with his
arms and legs cocked out in odd angles and
his classmates will laugh and there'll
be no cotton gin tied 'round his waist.
"Pastoral scenes of the gallant south,
the bulging eyes and the twisted mouths..."
In this photo he's proud of the hat on his head.
You can see that by how straight his neck is
and his mama's in the picture and they got the same
face and his head's high and perfect and
ain't no bullet in it and it'll be months before there is one
and in those months he's his mother's child,
the smug and overfed man-child all southern
women love to cook for and dote on cuz he
licks the plate clean even if it's leftovers.
He just eats and yes ma'ams and makes you giggle
so much you got to shoo him out the kitchen
just so you can get the pots clean and
he's breathing and whole and
ain't no men dressed like midnight with
yellow teeth and sunless un-laughing eyes
snatching him out the door
changing everything when neither of 'em
asked to be anything other than
laughing in the kitchen with
the greens still simmering in the pot.
"Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck..."
This last photo's a holocaust.
The one history concretized into
the nighttime musings of black children
who hopscotched above and below the bible belt,
who saw a tattered other worldly version of
the 14 year-old Emmett,
his head poised strangely above a sharp black suit on
the cover of Jet magazine.
There were no eyes, smiling
mischievous man-child wonderful,
cornbread and buttermilk slicking,
fast talking, looking like his mama,
bubblegum pop saunter and sizzle
straight necked full of tomorrow's boy
staring back into the camera.
What was there, wasn't there at all.
What was there, swallowed the world.
My mama was eight years old when
they painted Emmett Till's fractured image
on the cover of a negro magazine.
Eight years old.
Pigtails, knee socks, pinafores, pleats, and
a heap of pretty girl possibilities.
But I know my grandmother set that book down
with intention on the coffee table
knowing her baby girl would see it and know
what shouldn't be known but what must be known.
This is what the south did when an adolescent mistake
when a fast-talking, finger-snapping negro from up north
whistles and boasts about big city white girl honeys
with rosy lips and no Jim Crow.
It's an imagine I shoved
at my 13 year old son,
frenetic in my attempt to tell him
that this is black history.
I need him to known that if he isn't
careful, not brave, not the sum total of all
our unlit courage, if he relegates
these stories to cliff-notes,
he'll bleed out and die in the epilogue.
I need you to know, Salih,
that my arms will never be wide enough
to cover sins like these,
that your head held so high
is still a cautionary tale
but to go on and do it anyway and
laugh and dance with your
arms and legs cocked out in odd angles and
slip by me and get the extra cornbread
whenever you can and
be grateful that when you and your boys
say something slick
about the pretty blonde girl
in the front row of algebra...
You're permitted that levity
after 400 years of
midnights. Necks decorated in nooses.
Plantations that decorated terrorism in
white pillars and mint juleps.
I tell my son to remember Emmett Till,
to remember when his eyes
were still hazel, still smiling
and how high he held his head
to celebrate that brand new hat,
to remember that his mother loved him
and almost couldn't recognize him
after that last whistle left his throat.
I tell him I'll be his mother
and celebrate his brown boy buoyancy
all the days of my life, and that while I don't
know what tomorrow holds,
I know that he'll never be strange fruit,
will never be broken open, will never be strung up,
will never be hog tied,
will never have his face so like my own
crushed or mangled or hatcheted.
I tell my son:
I'm growing these limbs to get
'round him and surround him and
we'll be strong and
unapologetically black for as long
as we can be.
A Choir of Blackbirds
For Marissa Alexander
The blood of black women is unremarkable.
Window dressing, you might call it
For the horror show of lugging around
A body built for a funeral.
Marissa met a man who
Killed her in fractions,
Parceled out her flesh
Like some maggot-ridden doll.
Every weekend he sawed her in half,
The incredible disappearing lady
Pummeled under his ordinary hands;
She put herself back together each morning.
Owned her hunger
Like cattle waiting to be eaten,
Kept blood clots like small children
Obligingly heavy with a broken man's hell.
But dragons will pretend to be lambs,
Monsters will pretend to be men.
Marissa kept passing by her own red heart.
Her wings fastened under his boot.
Quiet daughter dreary with quiver,
An unrehearsed life,
An imaginary mouth,
Terrible heart in a crowded house.
Her blood a choir of blackbirds,
She tunneled her own deathbed
Became the tourniquet,
Her fists a stone corsage.
She practiced the end of him,
Her favorite good night dream:
Unflesh the monster and
Leave the lights on...
She fired a warning shot,
The only grace left in her,
An SOS signal to other women like her
Fighting for their water to break.
What can a brute do with an ocean?
What good are his fists to the rising tide?
He's no more a man
Than a woman's a flea.
Marissa, and her unoiled bones,
A sudden sacrament of steam
And water won't wait for you to learn its depths.
It'll salt your unlearned body,
Christen you conquered,
Bury you mercilessly
Beneath its cold, wide skirt.
The Period Poem
Dude on twitter said:
"I was having sex withmy girlfriend when
she started her period.
I dumped that bitch immediately."
Dear nameless dummy on Twitter:
You're the reason my daughter cried funeral tears
When she started her period.
The sudden grief all young girls feel
After matriculation from childhood and
The induction into a reality that they'll have to negotiate
People like you and you're disdain
For what a woman's body can do.
Herein begins an anatomy lesson infused with feminist politics
Because I hate you.
There's a thing...called a uterus.
It sheds itself every 28 days or so
Or in my case every 23 days
(I've always been a rule breaker).
That's the anatomy part.
The feminist politic part is that women
Know how to let things go,
How to let a dying thing leave the body,
How to become new,
How to regenerate,
How to wax and wane not unlike the moon and tides,
Both of which influence how YOU behave.
Women have vaginas that can speak to each other.
By this I mean, when we're with our friends,
Our sisters, our mothers,
Our menstrual cycles will actually sync the fuck up.
My own vagina is mad influential.
Everybody I love knows how to bleed with me.
(Hold onto that, there's a metaphor in it).
But when your mother carried you,
The ocean in her belly is what made you buoyant,
Made you possible.
You had it under your tongue when you burst through her skin,
Wet and panting from the heat of her body,
The body whose machinery you now mock on social media,
THAT body wrapped you in everything
That was miraculous about it and sang you
Lullabies laced in platelets
Without which you wouldn't have a twitter account
At all, motherfucker.
See, it's possible we know the world better
Because of the blood that visits some of us.
It interrupts our favorite white skirts and
Shows up at dinner parties unannounced.
Blood will do that.
It will come when you're not prepared for it.
Blood does that.
Blood's the biggest siren and
We understand that blood misbehaves.
It doesn't wait for a hand signal or a
Welcome sign above the door.
And when you deal in blood
Over and over again like we do,
When it keeps returning to you,
That makes you a warrior and
While all good generals known not to discuss
Battle plans with the enemy
Let me say this to you, dummy on Twitter:
If there's any balance in the universe at all...
You'll be blessed with daughters.
Etymologically "Bless" means: to make bleed.
See? Now it's a lesson in linguistics.
In other words blood speaks.
That's the message.
Stay with me.
Your daughters will teach you
What all men must one day come to know,
That women, made of moonlight, magic, and macabre,
Will make you know the blood.
We'll get it all over the sheets and cars seats.
We'll do that.
We introduce you to our insides.
And if you're as unprepared as we sometimes are,
It'll get all over you and leave a forever stain.
So, to my daughter:
Should any fool mishandle
The wild geography of your body,
How it rides a red running current,
Like any good wolf, or witch, well then...
Give that blood a Biblical name,
Something of stone and mortar.
Name it after Eve's first rebellion in that garden.
Name it after the last little girl to have her genitals
Mutilated in Kinshasa (that was this morning),
Give it as many syllables as there are unreported rape cases.
Name the blood something holy.
Something in hieroglyphs.
Something that sounds like the end of the world.
Name it for the roar between your legs and
For the women who'll not be nameless here.
Just bleed anyhow.
Spill your impossible scripture
All over the good furniture.
Bleed and bleed and bleed
On EVERYTHING he loves...period.
Dominique Christina is a mother, published author of three books, licensed educator, 2x Women of the World Slam Champion, 2011 National Poetry Slam Champion, 2013 National Underground Poetry Individual Slam Champion, social agitator, and intersectional feminist. She is the only person to win the Women of the World Championship twice. Her work is influenced by her family's legacy during the Civil Rights Movement. Her grandfather is in the baseball hall of fame and her Aunt Carlotta is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for being one of nine students to desegregate Central High School. Dominique is sought after to teach and perform at colleges and universities nationally and internationally every year. Her work appears in numerous literary journals and anthologies, the Huffington Post, IBTimes, Upworthy, Cosmo, and Teen Vogue.