Monthly Archives: June 2013

poem for Trayvon Martin and other dead brown boys

trayvonmartin

George Zimmerman’s trial begins today. I thought it appropriate to post the poem that I wrote last year after Trayvon’s murder. I am praying for justice.

poem for Trayvon Martin and other dead brown boys

The delight of the airplane

is what sticks in my eye:

 

ground-bound, but the sky

is a butterfly you’re cupping

in your palms.

 

Just a few more beats

of heart and wing

and you could have been

in the blue, arms or engine

pumping.

 

I want us all to live

in your eyes:

 

to see how

in one breath

a boy can be

dreaming

and in the next

be a leaf

 

fluttering

carried away

 

red,

then gray,

then gone.

 

 

.

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Sluts, Whores, Skanks, and Tramps

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The word slut has many synonyms: hoe, whore, skank, tramp, promiscuous.

By age thirteen, I’d been called all of them.

By age thirteen, most girls I knew had been called all of them, by other girls, especially by boys, and even by authority figures. The words came down on us for many reasons:

  • We had breasts.
  • We wore a shirt that didn’t hide our breasts.
  • We wore shorts that showed our legs. (That’s what shorts do.)
  • We liked a boy, and another boy didn’t like that we liked that boy.
  • We liked a boy, and another girl didn’t like that we liked that boy.
  • We liked a girl, and no one liked that.
  • We were raped, touched, sexually assaulted.
  • We told someone no.
  • We told someone yes.

The list goes on.

When I was a teenager, I faced my abuser in court. The defense called me promiscuous. It was because of my supposed, thirteen-year old promiscuity that my abuser walked. Now, at age twenty-five, I am still called these words. Every woman I know has been called these words. People I know use these words. People I don’t know use these words. But other than our femaleness, the women who are called these words have nothing in common:

  • We are black and white and brown.
  • We are virgins and not.
  • We are fat and thin and muscular.
  • We have big breasts and small breasts.
  • We are adults. We are children.
  • We wear all different kinds of clothes. Some of us wear burqas.
  • We say yes and no.

The list goes on.

If every woman has been called these words–regardless of her sexual activity; regardless of her clothes–what does that tell you?

It tells me that something is wrong with the words–with the world. Not with the women.

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The Factory–A Short Story

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“First time to the Factory?”

Mr Thomas turns. It’s a man in a black suit, whispering, eyes the same color as his clothes.

“Yes, it is,” Mr. Thomas says shortly, and begins to turn back to the front before he changes his mind.

“Do you work there?” Mr. Thomas asks.

“Lots of us do.”

 

Its lawn is green and geometric. Some hand not present has mown overlapping circles and squares into the grass and Mr. Thomas stares at them as he approaches the entrance. The man in the black suit is gone. He’d gone another way, a way Mr. Thomas could not follow.

“Name. Business. Time.”

The man at the desk says these things abruptly, a wind-up machine.

Mr. Thomas writes the required on a pad of bright yellow paper sitting on the black desk like a flame.

“Sit.”

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Sitting, he can observe the Factory. He is in a cavernous hall, removed from the front door through which he’d entered, where he’d had his eyeballs scanned, his finger pricked, a sample of his hair taken. He hadn’t asked why. The ceiling is as high as a church, cast in shadow. The chair is straight and black, the floor an astonishing expanse of white marble. He stares at it, looking for dust, a dimple. There is none. It is flawless.

“Thomas. This way.”

It’s the man at the desk, away from the desk. He beckons Mr. Thomas stiffly with his arm. Mr. Thomas thinks he must need grease.

 

He is walking up then he is walking down. The passageways wind like snakes and Mr. Thomas begins to think they are underground. The air feels close like a burrow. Yet he thinks they’re walking uphill. The effect is dizzying.

“Are we walking up or down?” Mr. Thomas asks the man at the desk, who is leading him.

“Both,” the man says, then turns his head slightly to look back. “Dizzy? It will pass.”

It does pass. The smooth white floor levels out and the corridor widens. It should be dark, Mr. Thomas thinks: there are no overhead lights, no sconces, no windows. Yet the hallway is lit. The light doesn’t come from anyplace; it just is.

“Sit,” the man at the desk says again. There’s a chair by a door.

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Waiting. The perfect white floor. The light that comes from nowhere. Then a command. “Come,” a door opening with a sound like snake’s scales.

 

“Sit,” and Mr. Thomas sits again, but he has to grope for the chair. Its silhouette is fuzzy, the light from nowhere is nowhere and the room is dark.

“Forgive me,” the voice says, and there is light, too much, and Mr. Thomas sits down blinking.

Before him is a man in a pale suit—Mr. Thomas can’t tell if it’s white or beige. Perhaps a faint gray. He is leaning against a massive desk, piled high with papers.

“Did you bring the paperwork?”

Mr. Thomas nods, and reaches into his briefcase. He hasn’t put it down since he’d picked it up this morning and he flexes his fingers, which ache. Inside are the papers. He draws them out and hands them to the man in the pale suit.

The papers shuffling are reptilian coils in the bright, dry room. Too bright. Too dry. Mr. Thomas feels thirsty and tired.

“You are here on behalf of Schadcorp,” the man in the pale suit says, eyeing the papers.

“Yes,” says Mr. Thomas.

“And what is the problem Mr. Schaden is encountering?”

“There is…there is some bad press.” Mr. Thomas swallows, searching for the words. “Mr. Schaden had an…indiscretion with an employee. She is pressing charges. People are…very angry. The photographs of her injuries were leaked. Mr. Schaden would like a solution.”

“Ahh.” It’s all the man in the pale suit says. He stands and walks behind the massive desk.

Mr. Thomas watches him. His eyes feel very dry. He puts the briefcase down again, for it it’s suddenly heavy.

“Mr. Thomas,” the man in the pale suit says, “would you like some water?”

“Yes…yes please.”

The man in the pale suit points. Following his finger, Mr. Thomas sees a cart with a pitcher and tall slender glasses. He hadn’t noticed it before; he’d only seen the man and the desk.

Mr. Thomas rises and goes to the water. The pitcher is cold in his hand. When he drinks, he tastes cucumber.

“Mr. Thomas, how serious would you say Mr. Schaden’s situation is?”

“Serious? Well…very serious. The news crews are outside his house and headquarters all day and night. Sales are down. Boycotts in Chicago and New York. I’d say it’s…it’s very serious.”

“Alright,” says the man in the pale suit. “Let’s get down to business. Sit, Mr. Thomas.”

 

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

The man in the pale suit looms above his desk, shuffling papers, looking. He finds a book and opens it.

“How would Mr. Schaden like to handle this little problem?”

“I think Mr. Schaden wanted to know some options,” says Mr. Thomas. The glass of cucumber water is too cold.

“Well,” the man in the pale suit says, flipping through the book. “Let me see what I have available.”

A moment of silence, just shuffling paper.

“We haven’t had an e.coli scare in awhile,” the man says. “Will that do? Oh, what about African bees? The media loves things with ‘African’ in their names. That’s always good.”

Mr. Thomas sips absently. His eyes are still dry.

The man in the pale suit looks up to see Mr. Thomas’s reaction. He looks slightly disappointed.

“No? Alright. What else…” Flip flip flip. “How about we have Arizona consider a bill banning…oh, I don’t know…interracial seating arrangements in classrooms. I could let our lobbyists come up with something better if you don’t like that. Or,” his voice peaks a bit with excitement, “we could have a meteor land in Minnesota. We have old footage that CNN wouldn’t recognize. That would be good.”

Mr. Thomas finishes his water. He wishes he had brought the whole pitcher over to the chair.

“No, you’re right,” the man in the pale suit says, looking crestfallen. “Too much, too much. We shouldn’t use it all at once. We might need to save the meteor for down the road if our Mr. Schaden runs into trouble again. Mr. Thomas, are you alright?”

Mr. Thomas feels like a frog drying out in the sun.

“I…I think I’m alright,” he says.

“It’s your first time,” says the man. And he looks tender. “Forgive me. You must. So insensitive of me. Let me get you more water.”

Mr. Thomas drinks another glass.

“The Factory,” he says, feeling a little drunk. “What do you make here?”

The man in the pale suit leans against the front of the desk, his expression gentle. He doesn’t respond.

“The Factory,” Mr. Thomas says again. “Surely you must make something. A factory creates, manufactures. What do you manufacture?”

The man folds one hand into the other, his eyes pale.

“Do you need me to tell you, Mr. Thomas?”

Mr. Thomas feels the sweat from the glass slide down onto his fingers. The water sinks into him.

The man in the pale suit pushes off from his desk. He pauses for a moment, studying Mr. Thomas, before he goes behind it again. He shuffles more snakeskin papers.

“I think a rapper should do it,” he says to the air.

“A rapper?” asks Mr. Thomas, only barely curious. The empty glass in his hand feels unbearably heavy. An anvil.

The man looks up from where he’s bent over the desk.

“A rapper, yes. Some controversial lyric. We’ll pull all the appropriate strings. It will be quite captivating.”

“A rapper…” says Mr. Thomas.

“Yes, that always seems to do the trick.”

Mr. Thomas feels quite faint. The glass seems ready to slip out of his hand but he manages to slowly, slowly lower it to the floor. It comes to rest by the leg of the black chair with a gentle click.

“Mr. Thomas,” says the man in the pale suit, removing his glasses. Had he been wearing glasses all along? His face seems to have changed. “Are you certain you’re alright?”

“I am…not.”

The man sets the eyeglasses down on the desk where they blend in with the nests of papers.

“Let me see you out, Mr. Thomas. I can take it from here. A rapper will do just fine. Here, take the paperwork. Inform Mr. Schaden that he’ll have his solution. No later than Thursday.”

“What day is it today?” the world seems very far away.

“Today is today,” the man says.

“Today is every day,” says Mr. Thomas without knowing why.

They’re at the door. It seems too small to walk through, a Willy Wonkian door. Outside Mr. Thomas knows there is fresh, cool air. Water. Light that has a source. But the fear is heavy. He hadn’t realized it until the moment he laid eyes on the door—the fear has been sliding its hands all over him since he sat down in the chair. It’s had its fingers in his mouth, its hands around his throat.

“But…but…” the door will bring freedom, but he shrinks from it.

“It’s alright, Mr. Thomas,” the man says, guiding him. “This is your first time. The truth is a little hard for everyone at first.”

“The truth.”

“Yes.”

“That’s not what the Factory makes.”

“No.”

They stare at one another. The man’s face has changed again.

“Out you go, Mr. Thomas,” says the man, gesturing.

“But I’m afraid.”

“Yes.”

.

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The Battery: Even Zombies Can Be Sluts

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I watched a zombie movie with my coworkers yesterday: The Battery, an independent, low budget film that’s being applauded for its realism and blah blah blah. I watched it. It was pretty alright. I’ll tell you about something that bothered me, which is obviously why we’re here.

There is a part in the movie where one of the lead characters (a white, male, former baseball player) is asleep in a car when a female zombie makes her way across the field and starts trying to “get him” through the car window. She is wearing short-shorts, a t-shirt with no bra, and knee-high baseball socks. She’s dead and gray and…well, a zombie. The male character awakes with a start, freaks out, and then—to the audience’s dismay—pulls down his pants and underwear and starts masturbating furiously to the sight of the zombie’s clothed breasts pressed up against the car window as she tries to reach him.

It was actually pretty funny. It’s the zombie apocalypse and he hasn’t seen or touched a woman in months. He was desperate, lonely. It was absurd and silly and when his companion in the movie kills the female zombie and catches him jacking off, he laughs hysterically. Funny scene.

That’s not what bothered me. What bothered me was the cast list.

At the end of the movie, the zombie girl in the short-shorts was billed as “Fresh Zombie Slut.”

Oh?

It’s just like we see in real life, folks. We have a woman without a bra or wearing short-shorts, or just a woman in general, and we have the male gaze seeing her and sexualizing her—EVEN IN HER STATE OF DECAY—and yet she is the slut. She, in her natural state, who just happened to die while bra-less, is the slut. Not the ridiculously disgusting dude in the station wagon who sees decomposing boobs and feels obliged to masturbate to them. Her. The woman who, so sorry, didn’t stop and say “Oh, before I turn into a zombie I better put on some longer shorts and a bra,” is the slut.

This is misogyny. Even in death, women are subject to the whims of patriarchy and rape culture. I wish she had eaten him.

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Black Children and After Earth

ImageI saw After Earth yesterday. In an interview, Will Smith acknowledged that it was very much a metaphor for the way he felt about raising a son in Hollywood, sending him out into a vicious world to fend for himself. After seeing the film, I couldn’t help but also see it as a metaphor for raising a black child in America.

In the movie, Will Smith’s character warns his son as he sends him on a mission that will risk his child’s life: “Everything on Earth has evolved to kill human beings.” Yes, and the same could be said about institutions in America that more and more are revealed to be designed to destroy black children. The Ursa—the alien weapon-creature that the humans dread most in After Earth—was bred to destroy humans. The prison pipeline and the War on Drugs were designed with a similar goal when it comes to black humans. As George Zimmerman’s trial looms near, we are reminded—did we ever forget?—that being black in America is a risk. Like Jaden Smith on the terrifying future planet, black children are in constant danger in a hostile world.

As I left the theater for the film, my boyfriend and I witnessed a man roll his eyes and say to his friend, “Will Smith only made that movie for his son.”

To that I say, “So?” There is a startling lack of black faces in American film—it seems one must be a black father for a movie to be made in which black sons (and daughters) can see themselves represented onscreen…especially if the roles are to reflect something other than stereotypical caricatures about blackness and its meaning. And more so…what is so wrong about a man with the ability and resources to do so making a film that will uplift his own child? White folks do it all the time. If a black father wants to use his clout to make a movie that represents the tragically unrepresented–especially in a film as fresh as After Earth–why the hell not?

So I say bring it on, Will Smith. Bring us After Earth. Bring us Annie. I am so here for that.

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