Sticky Hands, Wild Hair, Bare Feet/ A Sky Right Above/ Father, where is your heart?/ Until death—

Sticky Hands, Wild Hair, Bare Feet

The beginning of my being

is one with the ocean.

Infinitely black, 

vastly                                  

                 bottomless.

A powerful body unexplored, I am.

When fishermen question what tribe I belong to—

what kingdom I come from—

I want to burst into song and shout  

Chaga! or

Xhosa!

I want to hum 

mammal or

fish 

thinking, wishing, hoping 

that perhaps they will 

float 

and love me. 

But the deeper these fishermen sink with me 

I become unfathomably black and

to know me is to submerge; not to wade.

 

To know me is to drown, 

and to burn weaknesses like

“sight” and “breath.” 

Maybe I am of a great ocean tribe 

silenced. 

Because I can recall a time when I 

sang to ships with my sisters before they sank.

I swam for the sake of swimming. 

I sang for the sake of song. 

I am voiceless with wild hair

sticky hands and bare feet on a dry land 

searching for a song in the ocean 

that is just as black as me.

*     *     *

I become unfathomably black and

to know me is to submerge; not to wade

There is no “narrative arc” in this story, no lesson to learn, but there is plenty of life to be lived and lots of ocean to drown in. Maybe a few opportunities to swim. And to sum it all up before it begins, her life is an eternal internal soliloquy in the middle of the very bottom of the ocean, where no human should ever go, which will ultimately force her to leave wet for dry. Picture her at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, in the fetal position, untangling her kinky-coily hair. Picture her all mermaidy and breathing but still crushed by the heaviness of darkness and water.

“I am only a daughter. I am only a teenager.”

So how could she have known what to do when she overheard her mother weeping inside of a blue cave on her sixteenth birthday? When this happens, she won’t feel like a hero. But she will feel a strong urge to disappear. She’ll feel the water in her lungs dry out. No reason to try and swim to the top of the surface anymore. She’ll feel her feet begin to grow. 

“I am only a daughter. I am only a teenager. I am just a girl.”

*     *     *

A Sky Right Above

show the dead girl 

meant to soar across a forbidden sky

fire, 

mermaids banished from oceans,

land that is diamond blue before wet, 

breath sinking to bottom, and 

jewels falling from fin.

show her volcanoes spitting mountains 

and blue giving islands 

that rebelled against the red gods

show her the skies aloft,  

floating above hell.

No reason to try and swim to the top of the surface anymore. She’ll feel her feet begin to grow. 

*     *     *

“I am only a daughter. I am only a teenager. I am just a girl.” 

She overheard her mother weeping and didn’t know what to do. I have a few scenarios that would work on land and under the sea if you ever catch your mother crying in her cave. In all fairness, I realize you might be reading this on dry land. 

Tell your stepfather that his wife is crying again. And he’ll swim to her rescue. He will. Because that is why they got married. Right? He’ll swim. He’ll swim so she won’t have to. He’ll be brave and swim. 

Or, you could quietly flutter into her cave with an unsteady tail and inquire about the pressing issue that has reduced your mother, your hero, to tears. 

You could also just pretend like you didn’t hear anything at all and go back to your pit and untangle your hair in the darkness. 

“Mama don’t cry. I don’t need a birthday gift this year. Please don’t cry. It’s okay.” 

She could’ve said that to her mother. She could’ve comforted her and validated her worth as a mother. But she didn’t. She isn’t the archetype. And the undying emotions that swell in her heart would probably never come out of her mouth. Maybe she’s just like her biological father. Wherever he is. And sometimes she wonders what he would have done in that scenario. She wonders if her father is a hero. 

*     *     *

Father, where is your heart?

My father’s fireproof hands mold together common things 

like metal and bread.

 

I ask him if he’ll ever move back to Jamaica and he replies 

No.

I wish to see myself in him, so I want to visit Jamaica. Does 

he see himself in me?  

Black American born daughters of immigrants are a woven

intricacy of imposters. A beautiful quilt 

of wanderers searching for where we belong. Are we the same? 

I want him to tell me stories about his country.  

Can you really see your toes in the sea? Did you ever get tired 

of eating stew peas? 

I want to hear him say “I miss my home”. I want to hear his heart

Speak.  

 

If home is where he left his heart, then home is where I’ll find his 

love; diving off of a cliff into Rio Minho 

waiting for me to learn how to swim.  

And sometimes she wonders what he would have done in that scenario. She wonders if her father is a hero. 

*     *     *

She uncoils her hair and tries to recall the last time her father uttered the words “I love you.” But he’s not here now. And he hasn’t been here for a while. 

But she still remembers when everyday felt like autumn and the holiday seasons lasted much longer. Although she had never experienced what she overheard those fishermen refer to as “autumn,” for some reason should could still feel it. She tasted it. She smelled it. Some part of her had been on land before, or at least that’s what she thought. When she brought it up to her mom, her mom would just tell her that she was only dreaming and that her imagination was getting the best of her. Despite her mother’s persistent denial of her daughter ever having been on land, she would dream about her younger self drinking hot cocoa, the taste of chocolate coated soft marshmallow on the tip of her tongue. Warm. Sweet. Real. Home. 

It’s weird how we have these ideas of how life should be and feel. Sometimes we even come up with false memories to validate our positions and our outlook on how our lives should be. But everything and everyone continues to change and evolve into what things are instead of what they’re meant to be. And laying there at the bottom of her darkness, she realizes that she hates what her life is. She’ll eventually start caring way too much about how much she weighs, her crooked smile will cause her to lose all of her friends, and boys won’t prove to be the princes she always dreamed of. One day she asked her mother if she was ugly. 

“I’m breaking. I’m breaking. I’m breaking.” 

“You’re just going through growing pains,” her mother explained.

*     *     *

Black American born daughters of immigrants are a woven

intricacy of imposters. A beautiful quilt

what breaks to grow.

let/me/be/broken     a tree trunk has split in half, and it’s 

bister brown branches reach downward  hanging onto being as if  

growing through pain  is a calling.  

living things will break, time and again.     and what moves life

has splintered me.   each fragment of my being   blown away with the wind    

and settling   back into dirt     to grow again. 

and what do humans compare this pain

to? What is the nature of this sadness? 

why am I breaking to grow?      I already know what is to come. 

I am no god   or grower of things.   no mountains to move. 

let/me/be/broken. 

*     *     *
Yea. Remember when I said there is no narrative arc in this story? You thought I was just being sarcastic for the sake of humor? No, I wasn’t. Let her be broken. Because things do not get better from here. And she won’t wind up telling her dad that she loves him and he won’t say it back. In fact, she won’t see him again for another ten years. She won’t regain those friendships she lost because she’s the ugly duckling in high school now. Life will continue to evolve into what it is and not into what it should be. As of now, she has her darkness, her kinky-coils, her false memories, and the music in her head.

*     *     *

Until death—

play barefoot

in a bed of wood

chips and mulch

magma forming

islands on your

kneecaps a bitter

sweet red blood

tastes like a fallen

lollipop forgotten

under the bed

learn the color of filth

it won’t be brown

or black paint

your face be

who you were

before you

knew better.

Victoria Richards is a Jamaican-American poet, writer, and educator. She was born in Queens, NY, and raised in Houston, TX. Some of her work has been featured in Eleven and a Half Journal, The Inquisitive Eater, Teachers & Writers Magazine, and more. She is striving to become a connoisseur of all things related to Black Girl Magic. Visit her twitter @vickiwroteit