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spacer.gif   Tara Betts
Posted by : cj on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 09:16 AM
Poetry:  Click On The Author's Name Illegal Gatherings
(for Mayor Daley)

You can forge bars but that does not mean
I won't grow millions of arms to bend them.
You can erect walls but that does not mean thousands of my shoulders won't crush them.
You can impale my tongues on laws
outlining my homicide
but you will have to sleep and die
in the cavern of my screams
You poison
us with a river of blood
toxins pumped into red clay
Mississippi Delta dirt
But we are not dinosaurs
We are not machines
We are not menial
We are forgotten, denied, ignored
sons and daughters
who have arrived at the holiday
the not-so-holy-day dinner
We bang silverware
of ballots, picket signs and pennies on the table cracking china with chants
pummeling porcelain with dance
finally requesting the silence
uttered by full stomachs
strong, robust bodies
shades of brown, white, tan
all looking for the aftertaste
of honest work
No wallpaper plasters our chests
with stereotypic patterns
so we can paint the city with poems
blanket its buildings with murals
know that the gunshot symphony dies
as it enters its final movement
The din of a jackhammer
smashes all the quiet things
smothers the music missed
in every street corner bop walk
and swinging hip greeting its partner
with double-clasp hand grasp with snaps
Laws are no stop sign for family
Laws cannot halt the gathering of people finding pieces of themselves
under a battered First Amendment
where one city council congregates
in public space
an organized gang
erasing our face

Can I Hang?
(1999 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award poem.)

He said, Baby, I'm just wondering if you could handle me being your man?
How is he gonna ask me
if I can hang?
Does he need to know
how elementary
his question is?
As basic as
coming together as what we
He gonna ask me can I handle it?
Can I hang?
I knew I could hang since
silt made Nubia fertile
the Nile flowed into the blossom of its delta
I knew I could hang when I led countries and still bore his children
I knew I could hang when I saw strangers come in snatch him from me
tell me loving him
was heathenish
then push into me with their civilization again and again
Throughout all this,
his countenance was etched in my brain
sketched into my scars
raised like the brand on my back.
He wants to know if I can hang?
After beatings, his emasculations,
being considered less than animal,
I acted as a child of God –– too often scorned
grinned as our master choked on ground glass
laughed as I put pillows over ivory infants' faces
smiled as I watched the seemingly endless flow of blood
run from the throat of my mistress
who did nothing while her husband attacked me and he was forced to look.
Love, I knew I could hang when we went to war together
Civil War/World Wars/ Korea/ Vietnam
and all the battles thereafter.
I saw him become bullet–filled fragments of man at the Audubon ballroom
on Lorraine Hotel's balcony
while sleeping at 2133 W. Monroe
wherever ropes and flames did not reach him.
I tell him
Come home and fight for our people.
Some want him to fight for their interests instead of reconstructing Reconstruction where he represented us in Congress
our new whitewashed storefronts
the farms
the churches.
Honey, I wasn't no slouch either.
My sisters stood beside me.
I raised sand and brought the ruckus cuz I had to.
I had to stop his lynching
halt the mauling of his genitals
explain to his children his absence was not willing
abandonment or lack of love
Since these obstacles only slowed me down,
I surpassed some fools.
My writings
my protests
my businesses
my votes
my teaching
my child rearing
are all signs of semi–world domination
Semi– because a woman wants to share
I raised his bail
cleaned his house
spanked his chillun
and even broke him off somethin
if spirits moved me
cuz baby I know I can hang.
I have taken more of the burden than I care to remember.
I stood silent while he pocketed unowned things
or packed vials in his pockets.
I muffled my tears when he beat me or molested our own daughters.
I failed to smack away his hand pointing 12–gauge death at our children.
I bit my lip when I shoulda said, "Hell naw!"
He got to be playin if he's askin me "Can I hang?"
I've only got one thing left to say.
I've been hangin since before he was hung and I ain't gonna stop.
Don't wonder about that.

Ode to the Cowrie Shell

Your mother ocean sweeps
your brothers, sisters
to African shores
Cracked full moons
strung on strands
of black leather
Catching prophecies
in hollow, flat backs
White roundness
culled from water
Ovals that danced
on tables as coins
Become woman knowledge
spinning down the spine
toward the center of life
You, channeler of spirit
birthing through pointed teeth
centered in wombs
dangling from necks
spilling onto Ife trays
into the disarray of a
thousand stories
Handed down to be told
again by the same people
visited by novices
confronting past lessons

Bucket Drummers at Jackson Subway Stop

Silver trains squirm through grimy veins of a woman known for her wind
These tunnels become the escape mechanism for nine–to–fivers and others
but there is no refuge,
even inside the roar of incoming trains from opposite sides,
for what they are about to hear.
Bucket bottoms flip up to kiss concrete sky
and plunge through chests quicker than the din of speeding steel
delivering itself by the ton
Buckets sprout Chango tongues
recite chants of mutilated hands
write forbidden alphabets
with ghost fingers
Buckets sob contemptuous pounding that echoed
every Sunday across the waters near New Orleans
This city replaces the touch of skin with plastic reviving pockets of heartbeats

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