Arts & Culture / The Reading Room / Vol. 2 No. 1-2

Stay Lit and other poems

Virgie Ezelle Patton, In Senegal, Women of Color

Image Credit: Virgie Ezelle Patton, In Senegal, Women of Color, (1980s), Watercolor on Paper, 24 x 32, Courtesy of the Ted Sherron Collection

Stay Lit

The day after Charlottesville was lit with tiki torches,
not lit like parties making night shine like Hennessey,
but lit like crosses or a man’s eyes before rope tightens.
I found myself with no tears available, all rage exhausted.
I walked to my kitchen and concentrated on tearing kale
leaves—dark and crinkly, brisk with crisp life for chewing.
I whipped olive oil, toasted almonds, dijon, salt, and pepper
into dressing because I could not subjugate my heart with
any more hurts. This healthy choice, one of many I make,
is made to outlive as many people, who pose as cisterns
of hate, as I can. I am a woman who celebrates the daily
failures of ignorant assassins. So, the clutter is swept away
after chopping shallots, stirring in browned butter beans,
and grilled asparagus, topped with toasted croutons warmed
in my own oven. Sustaining this body, feeding this conviction
to lean into future, burn brighter, longer than any torchbearer.

Love as Bullets Gnaw
for Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and many other Black lives

There are three young women holding black hands
They are wed to the melee of choked man, pinned
woman, dead boys prostrate in streets, girls shot
and assaulted in their homes. These women
declared vows consecrated with an insistence
in three words rushing like brushfire across this
country that kills without blink or broken step.
Along the fine quills of their skin, goosebumps
rise when they walk past goosestep and regiment.
The officers align with zip ties, riot shields, visors,
and riot control vehicles outweigh ancient tanks.
The vehicles with water cannons that outblast
hoses that pinned peaceful protesters to brick
walls of the 1960s. This is the 21st century, when
police can kill you on video and there is still some
reasonable doubt with some regards for a slain
victim’s innocence and humanity. This is the time
when they stood to say Black Lives Matter. They
loved each other in this time gnawed on by bullets.

Seeds of Water & Light

A colored section bordered the outskirts
of a white town without running water
or electricity—no pipes, no wires, dry and dark.
When the town finally agreed to supply both,
one condition fell like lead hours clanging
around their spirits. Colored folks would
dig next to the road for the lines to be laid.
For months, the men dug before & after
work, before breakfast & after dinner, until
dark, until a perfect open road lined the main
road & waited to be sown with seeds of water
and light. The men arrived at the utilities office,
hats in their hands, to announce that the digging
was done. Upon inspection, they were told they
dug up the wrong side of the road. No light
to read letters by and no indoor water to wash,
the men’s shoulders went limp as they trudged
home. No one looked at a shovel for days.
On the third day, one of the grandmothers
stepped outside & placed a chair near the road.
She started singing every song she knew, sing-
ing day and night, singing with daybreak into
the dark, singing until one of the men finally
came out onto his porch with his shovel & said,
Auntie, if you stop singing, I will come & start
digging again. She looked at him, stopped mid-
chorus, and smiled. She nodded to him, picked
up her chair, and went back inside her home. Her
voice enough to get the water & lights turned on.

Ballad of Charleston
for the niece of Tywanza Sanders
after Dudley Randall

Mama, I was smart to play dead
when the man started shooting.
I stayed low and covered my head,
We were praying. He was hooting.

Yes, baby, I am glad you are safe.
The doctors say you will be okay.
We’ll have ice cream and cake
to celebrate that you’re here today.

But, mama, what if I want to cry?
What if they don’t catch the man?
I miss Auntie Susie and Uncly Ty.
I was so scared. I almost ran.

You were so smart, honey,
because you did not run.
You’re worth more than money
and your life’s just begun.

So mama, what will happen to us?
The police can be so scary.
If you are not there or I’m on a bus,
what do I do so bullets won’t tear me?

I will do everything I can to keep
you safe. Like hugs, I love you hard
but watch until you go to sleep
we guard your heart, but be smart.

The mother looked at her brave child
who survived the murderer’s slaughter.
She was grateful this was not the last smile
she would ever see from her daughter.

She couldn’t wipe her baby’s dreams
from her memory, cracked panes,
bullets riddling bodies, walls, beams.
How could she say hide? How to explain?

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