I Wasn’t One & Pressing Comb

I Wasn’t One

(Inspired by Yehuda Amichai)

I wasn’t one of the stolen.
I wasn’t one of the many million
who had once only known
the sweetness of the sea.
I wasn’t confused cargo
stacked like the bricks of Babel
in the belly of a wooden beast.
I wasn’t shackled to my skin,
forgotten in my filth,
a prisoner of fear and promises.

I wasn’t even among the survivors,
spit up from a big fish
on the shores of a new Nineveh.
I was not bathed in unholy waters,
shaved of my nappy roots
or tinted with appearances.
My wounds were not anointed
with auction oils
by the slick palms of plunderers.

I wasn’t one of the broken;
one of the obliterated oracles
and extinguished identities.
I was not severed
from my lineage and language,
sold and seasoned like venison.
I was not stripped of my will and skin,
tombstone spine branded
with the calligraphy of alien tongues.

I wasn’t even among the 11 million
rising with the whip of dawn
after sleeping on tattered soil;
back bending beneath the grunts
of grueling work and grimy massas.
I wasn’t sodomized by bitter sugar canes
nor did I drink the pus of blistered memories.

And I wasn’t in the 100,000
who escaped Egypt
with pharaohs and idols
pointing guns at their backs.
I did not stand at the crossroads,
holding what was left of my breath
waiting,
praying,
hoping
that either liberty or death would find me.
I did not wander Kadesh.

I wasn’t amongst the burglarized,
dignity pried open by Jim Crow bars,
pride pillaged,
scraps of the sacred scattered
between picket fences and lynching trees.
I was not cast aside
by systems of apartheid;
washed in ashes because of my dirty skin,
left to dry in my own blood.

I wasn’t even one of the 250,000
that marched with Rustin,
stood with Lewis,
walked with Farmer,
and sat with Murray
so their children would not have to
live on their knees.

I came to the Promise by hope.

And though I was not in that number
I still have within me
footsteps and undulating rivers,
darkness and immovable lights
that guide me by night and day.
I still have inside me
a longing for early sunsets,
for whispers and the secrets of freedom
stitched into the patchwork of stars.
I still have within me
the desire for crossing borders
and a perpetual search
for the pathways to freedom.

 


Pressing Comb

I was burned.
Repeatedly.

Healed with aloe.
Then burned again.

I’m tryna catch
and lay down them edges, girl,
she’d tell me
and resume her irreverent campaign
against nappy roots.

Back then,
she didn’t know
she was catching
the edges of a broken mirror,
laying down
the curl of my fist
and the rise of my flame. 

She only knew
that kinky hair
didn’t acknowledge
the Cherokee
in my cheekbones;
didn’t reflect
the diluting of my lineage
with White folk’s blood.
Kinky hair
didn’t give us credit
for the other two-fifths.
She couldn’t handle
the way my coarse kinks
destroyed any chance
of being good. 

But if she could see me now,
flashing my Africa,
curls,
rolled up tight
like bodies
recoiling from the sting
of water hoses
and nigga
but refusing to give in.
Naps that go where they want
and stand up
as blatant reminders
that everything
came from
the genesis
between my thighs,
she’d understand that
her old pressing comb
was nothing more
than a hot and greasy
slavery. 

If only she could see me now,
see my fro in all its breathtaking,
revolutionary
glory,
she’d understand
that like our edges,
Black girls
were never created
to lay down
and burn.

 

Roshanda “Sean” Johnson came to know poetry at a young age. She has performed spoken word and starred in plays throughout the country. In addition to her poetic endeavors, she is also a painter, teacher, rock-star auntie, and humanitarian. To date, she has been published in eighteen anthologies, published two chapbooks, Unpredicted Prophecies and My Name Be, and will be releasing her first full-length anthology, All My Heroes Were Assassinated, in 2018.