SAY IT, SAY IT ANYWAY YOU CAN
He hit her in the back of the head. Truth—finds its own coarse measure. Not long out of diapers I wore purple hot pants and danced a funky chicken. There was the boogaloo, and my aunt’s red wig that went over her hair. I knew men, even then. I had uncles. And a father. We jumped high in the living room, our lives a quick-step. When I held her in my arms, did I do any good? She was hip, too cool, a Saturday night cigarette, a bone-handled pistol in the panty drawer. Say it louder—I was proud. I held my head up high with my Sally-legged aunt, I kicked my heels and my uncle laughed. He had a western name. This was Texas, a man’s world, but women raised men out of cotton, out of dust. Bred long-horns and bullshit. She could shoot, but she didn’t. She said, “Sing it baby.” Please, please—I got down on my knees and cradled her son’s head in my small arms. Out of memory the thread of truth. A red daisy chain. Blood running down a back. He hit her again. I was wearing my purple hot pants, ones that matched hers. Or I was in my pajamas holding my cousin’s head in my arms, covering his eyes, his mouth, with my flat chest, my fingers in his hair, red as his mother’s. Coarse. As in unrefined. She wore a wig that fell off her head. He screamed, “Fat bitch,” she screamed, “Don’t go,” and let her pony legs go to sticks, thin as a blue-bonnet stem. Texas flower, weed. When I held her in my arms it did no good. When my mother held her in her arms, she did not come back. I said, “Don’t go,” she said, “I’m black—” I sang, “Say it loud,” he said, “Black bitch.” It was a boogaloo, it had been danced before. My uncle laughed his laugh. It fell like a wig to the floor. He threw back his head, conked, slick as the blade of a razor. I’m saying it. Loud, the way truth comes out when it’s been held to your chest, like a little boy’s cries, a boy who will grow into his father’s shoes. Dance of generations. Cotton-eyed marshalls. Green-eyed brown men. She said, “You can’t trust men like that.” Turned me around, said, “Do your dance girl, sing that song.” She could shoot, but didn’t. Someone else did. I’m saying, in a bar, ten years and miles up the road he fell, like a wig hitting the floor. Juke joint. Gin-stomp. James Brown always spinning. Somebody always hitting the floor. He was big stuff in a slim suit. Cool as Saturday night he fell. Hair flawlessly coiled.
—from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets
Vievee Francis: “The first poet I loved was Robert Browning whom I read at fifteen years old. The second was Ai whose work I read in Ironwood three years later. The work of these poets, despite their being of different backgrounds and from different eras, resonated so much with me. That’s what I wanted, to write something that would touch a reader no matter when it was read or by whom. Like them, I write persona pieces, but lately find it necessary to mine my own life, and in this there is of course the conflation of anxiety and memory, shadow and truth.”