Poetry by Tara Stringfellow

A haunting prose poem by writer Tara Stringfellow.

Origins

 

Once in Atlantic City, after she couldn’t take it any longer, she picked up a bottle and sprayed mustard all over his shirt like silly string. He laughed a high, unsettling laugh in response. Shoved popcorn in his mouth and walking earshot behind her said she really must be a no name nigga from Memphis if she think she gon get anywhere with three babies no degree and a black face. People on the boardwalk didn’t know what to make of it. Some laughed. The women didn’t. They looked at her. Then at the stroller.

 

He gave her a black eye Easter night. She said he was a cheat jus like his black ass daddy and that’s when the fist came—unexpected, quick, soundless like a hummingbird. She rebounded against the peach colored wall. Went after him with a butter knife of all things circling him round and round the dining room table that was littered with scraps of hours-old pork. The police officer was nicer than most. Let me sit on his lap and play with his flashlight while he took his notes in our kitchen.

 

My almost-ex-husband is always late. After another fifteen minutes, he walks in carrying his elegance like a satchel and looking as he always did when he wore that caramel wool coat, like Jack Kennedy. When he sits I hiss out an angry whisper you know my check engine light has been on for months I’m at my wits end I’m using this refund for bills. The tax preparer kindheartedly pretends not to hear him call me a black bitch. Years ago we had a pregnancy scare. He fell asleep with his head on my belly talking to it about the Cubs and humming Sinatra songs. Angels cheer ‘cause we’re together he kept crooning. Over and over.

 

I walked into a hotel room in DC and saw my sister all five feet ten of her lying in some foreign origami pose on the floor while her boyfriend Kyle stood over her swaying drunkenly, leisurely like paper in the wind. The police officer, also memorably friendly, said I went after the boy’s neck like it was a barbecue rib on the Fourth but I couldn’t tell you what happened. All I remember was Kristen on the floor and wanting Kyle’s teeth in my hands. Remember when you damn near killed Kyle? Kristen asks. We laugh about it now, sitting on our back porch in Memphis. I pass her the bottle of bulleit rye I’ve hidden in my purse. I told you don’t date a half nigga Obama uppity nigga from Detroit. Her laughter dances along to the song of crickets in the night. Still cracking up she says I looked like a bear bout to claw his eyes out. We sip whiskey. No, I looked like mom, I say.

 

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