Poetry by Maya Washington

Before I Check Out
of Life Completely

Dear Grief,

We are familiar now. We share this bed.
This morning. And afternoon. A shower.
What’s left of the high-end herbal shampoo.
The tears circling the drain on dark days.

I am my own but still yours. In your world.
In my body. This mourning an afternoon.
We are a waiting room of status updates.
We are what happens as a body erodes
permanent like the edges of an ancient cliff.

A monument of bones and beating heart
that cannot keep you from your voyage.
Rickety red-boated. Relentlessly human.

 

_________________

 

 

 

A friend offers a meditation on grief:

Imagine your feet are fire, she says. That the fire is one with
the earth below. And you are light. Light, as in full of sun.
Full of fire. That when you breathe out, it is clear vapor, not
black smoke.

____________

 

White women who love black men understand when I say, I love black men more than
they might possibly love themselves
. Love them through grace or grief. Love them like
divinity. To the end of the earth. Maybe more than I love the earth.

There was a chapter (okay a few months) where I agreed to go out with anyone who
asked. I’m talking coffee, a movie—dinner. It was a premature biological clock thing. A
fall in black love and live happily ever after (and after that) have a baby thing. All the
while holding a secret I’m too scared to whisper, even if to myself:

I’m afraid to carry your pain. Or your child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

eggs  bacon  grits  sausage
black girl black girl
hang you like a hostage

 

 

 

 

 

And declare your death a suicide.

 

 

 

 

_______________

 

 

If I’m Killed By Police,

Know that I didn’t want to die this way. I wanted to live to one hundred. I was healthy.
The proper proportions for my height and weight. Small. I’m only 5’2 and a half.
It says 5’3 on my driver’s license. I wanted to account for the half inch. Vanity I suppose.
I’ve never been in trouble with the law. I’ve been profiled a few times. Twice in my
parents’ neighborhood because it’s nice. Once in rural Minnesota. Because it’s white.
Send the press a good photo. One where I look happy. Like I believe in freedom and
justice. My friend graduated from the police academy number one in his class. A group
of us went. After the ceremony we prayed over his bullets. I gave him a lego police
officer set as a gift. He’s never had to shoot anyone. That I know of. Tell my family
I loved them. Tell them this isn’t how I intended to die. Tell the reporters I was
educated. My parents—educated as well. Advanced degrees. This is important.
My grandparents barely finished 6th grade. Tell them so-called gangsta rap was
forbidden in our household. And that the police officer who lead the DARE program
at school was a white woman with short brown hair. I even earned a certificate. I kept
that promise until the day I died. If toxicology says otherwise, it’s a lie. I valued my life.
My clear head. I believed the commercial with the frying pan and the egg. No questions.
When I was a kid I wanted to be famous. Which really meant I wanted someone to think
that I mattered. Now, I’d really just like to see the ocean again. Follow the feathered
peaks of a wave rolling in from far out. If I ever did anything good, could you please
write it down, then send it to the person(s) who killed me? And to the Governor? And to
the President of the United States. They might not care, but hopefully it will make them
sleep a little less well. I don’t expect my death to keep them up at night. Not the way it
keeps you looking over your shoulder. Heart racing when you see a uniform. A gun.
An officer standing in line behind you at the coffee shop or some grocery store.
Too afraid to reach for your wallet.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                __________________

 

 

 

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Pinball machine of bullets
breaks rhythm of hip bone
& bachata

whines into water
getting bodied
into broken

como Jesucristo
en las manos
de los fariseos

like justicia
in the hands of vigilantes
stacking bodies          

high as politicians
thoughts
& prayers

 

 

 

 

 

___________

 

 

 

 

 

Dearest,

You were never the concern of shortsighted minutemen.
This was to be their land of milk and honey. Freedom
theirs. Not yours. Now that you’ve been folded in like
water to make the dry goods wet, you want cherry
blossoms to blow like bangles and stars.

The sorrowed metal of chains linked like daisies around
maypoles. Music around birth. But a candle is just a wish
thing. A spool of sea, thirsty as cottongrass seeking
freshwater communion.  With only blood to drink.

 

____________

 

 

 

P.S.

I will never judge you
if you decide
to check out of life
completely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening News,

 

First rule of the net: get it on camera

I am boiling rice noodles, Audre Lorde,
while a Xicana with long braids sages the streets of Denver
she is arrested for praying at a Trump rally
the moon in Texas is mad with bodies
a sniper is bombed by a robot at a peaceful protest
Minnesota bled a brother into cyberspace
t-shirt stained like salt skimmed from the skin of a digital desert
while black bodies are shot up between autoplays
chewbacca moms hide the face of a small girl
in the backseat of their vehicles.

Audre Lorde, I am seeking your voice
with the pain of my crippling grief
our pregnant women are fearing their births
in the streets of Baton Rouge and Saint Paul
(what does it mean
our wars
are still being fought by our children?)

Audre Lorde, our names are hashtags, stones, blood soaked rags, loosies,
shards of bullets, compact discs that hide their shape well.
We have never touched open palms together
yet how many of our sisters’ and daughters’ bones
crumble in plain sight
whose names we have not yet spoken
whose names we have never spoken
It feels like I’ve already heard the next names to be spoken.

Second rule of this road: a wound will not stop bleeding if
you press down hard enough.

                                                                                      ______________

 

 

 

If you could love me, I could stick around (I could stick). I could stick around.
We could stick around. Love could stick. It could stick to us. It could make us stick
around. You know that? We could find love and  it could stick us. We could stick around.
Don’t you want to stick around? If you could love me. We could stay. We could make
this thing work. If we can stick around long enough. Let’s do that. M’kay? Stick. Around.
And not die. Unless we really really want to. What if we could stick around and
not die? If we could live. What if I said I want to live? I really really want to. I want you
to love me. And live forever. Like we’re supposed to.

 

 

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