April 10, 2019

McKenzie Chinn

YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE SOMEONE

i am a stranger here
they have put me up in the fancy neighborhood and
when the alabaster white-haired fur coat woman
and her hesitant eyes hold the elevator for me and say

you don’t look like someone who i’ve met before

centuries pass between the someone and the who
and my muscles tense as i arm myself
with explanations for my presence in her the building,
this learned response, survival staple
gray matter imprinted infographic:
“how to keep a white woman from panicking”

i am a guest artist
i’m only temporary
i leave in December

i explain myself (away):

i am not a threat i am not a threat
i am not a threat i am not a threat and
i wonder what else might’ve been
in the canyon between the someone and the who

you don’t look like someone
who belongs here

you don’t look like someone
who inherited all the world

you don’t look like someone
who can pay these property taxes

really you look like the doorwoman
maybe you are her daughter, and forgot?
just a moment ago, our president was black but
you look like the doorwoman and
you don’t look like someone

and there was a moment when, instead of explain, i might have flipped my extensions and YES GIRL i just moved in and girl don’t you know i love it here! i’m never gonna leave, honey BELIEVE THAT! All clean and fancy up in here! where you get a coat like that? i want me a coat like that! girl, we finna TURN UP in this bitch! i’m finna tell my cousin ’bout this place. mmhmm, we movin right on up, you betta look at god ’cause won’t he do it. y’all got some thin walls in this place tho. ’spensive as hell but y’all got some thin walls. you like Biggie? but isn’t the ride always over before you even know what happened?

you don’t look like someone
who
i’ve met before

and only later do i realize—
i could’ve
said the same to her

from Rattle #62, Winter 2018
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

McKenzie Chinn: “I write poems because I am finding that more conventional structures for storytelling are often not expansive enough to hold the breadth and mutability of my experience, perspective, and story. I am black and I am a woman; I have been colonized so many times over and wish to emerge from those wars. No one can bring me back my old languages, so I’m here to find new ones. Ones that feel innate to my time, place, and identities. Ones that have maybe never before been spoken, but can be understood in an instant by those with ears to hear them. I wrote this poem to remind myself that I look like all the women who came before me, took up space, survived.” (web)

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