October 9, 2020

Penda Smith



Black girls ain’t women 
till our mothers say so,
but that ain’t ever 
stop us from growing, 

we wood-powdered bodies 
dangling sin-dipped,
saging midnight with
incense & charcoal

I flesh out/ 
replace my humbled tee shirt
with a crop top that flashes 
my bashful stomach, 
                                                            I ain’t like grown grown yet,
                                                            but me & my girls do grown shit,
                                                            gossip till our mouths run dry, 
& we are forced to drink

from fountains stupid boy spit in/ 
they must not know how 
to care for something as soft as water



today’s topic over stale ravioli 
is about the hoe of our class,                but she in our clique, 
                                                                 so she ain’t a hoe/ she a woman 

she says, ‘yea, & anyway make sure you use a condom, 
but also like double it up’
us not yet knowing about fire & friction/
dream gleefully at the masters we will become
she says, ‘there might be blood the first time, but don’t worry cause it’s normal’
& we are unafraid of blood 

she says, ‘you ain’t got to shave forreal forreal & he better buy you food’
& we are unafraid of our bodies & how we must feed it

she says, ‘So what if he got a girlfriend?’
& we are unafraid of the other girls we knew could fight



even now, i remember
the first boy’s rugged hands
i spilled in,
my face, an awkward rendition of
Sanaa Lathan & Omar Epps 
in Love & Basketball
but in the movie, 
there was no 
squeaky mattress

with one thin sheet, 
no cockroach 
feasting on bread crumbs 
in the corner,
There, she said yes yes, 
& her legs did not tremble 
like mine, 

amen the harlot’s heart, 
the one who got caught 
sucking dick in the secret 

the one who said, 
girl, you ain’t blend 
that concealer



the one 
who taught 
us about us, 
when our 
mothers were
& only growled 
at our sprouting 

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Penda Smith: “I am a fourth-year First Wave student pursuing a degree in neurobiology with the hopes of attending medical school and researching black infant mortality. I left my home in the Bronx to join the First Wave program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I traded in my favorite soul food restaurants in Harlem, my family at Urban Word NYC, Monday nights at Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe for the dull, seasonless streets of Madison, Wisconsin, because my education was fully funded. However, leaving my home has emerged themes of my relationship with my mother, my childhood, my positionality as a black womyn within my writing. My writing speaks to and is for black people. In academia and even slam spaces, there is often an underlying push to get writers of color, especially black writers, to consider the white gaze in their work. However, my writing is what helps to think, critique, honor, and condemn the world as I see it. My writing demands my vulnerability in speaking about my mother, how I have come to terms with my sexuality, and overall, how I navigate being a black womyn in an anti-black world. This means that I will communicate in words I and my friends, siblings, and folks I grew up with understand, while simultaneously making my work inaccessible to white people. This is a sacrifice I understand and am content with. Today, I am a research scientist determined to challenge the epidemic of black infant mortality. I am a storyteller determined to write away depression. I am a pessimist on the days when my depression is too heavy to write. I am a daughter determined to love my mother while confronting the traumas of my childhood with my therapist. I am a lover learning love after being a survivor of sexual assault. I am patient, honest, and vulnerable when I am, but not when I cannot be. Together, these all contribute to and make me the writer that I am today.” (web)

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