Thursday, February 3, 2011

“I’m not dead yet.”

"I'm not dead yet."

            That was the phrase I repeated into my cell phone countless times as a teenager when I would call my mother. She always hated it and told me she wished I would stop and I have to admit that I persisted with the phrase because of her discomfort. My mother's greatest fear, it seemed, was so ever present and constant that I couldn't help but find it absurd. My mother was afraid of me leaving the house.

            My mom's fear was silent at first. It was the unnoticeable flinch as the eight-year-old model of me raced bikes or the wistful look as she dropped me off at a friend's house. These were small, more a mother's worry than anything else. But as I grew older her concerns became a phobia. And as the city around us changed her phobia became justified.

            With each successive year of my high school career a disturbing trend emerged throughout the city of Chicago. Public School students were more and more often victims of gang and other street violence. The victims and assailants overwhelmingly resembled me in gender, race, and economics. Every time I stepped out of the house my mother was afraid that I would be the next casualty in a war waged by misguided street soldiers or the police that harass them. I could tell in the desperate, probing questions that became a precursor for my every excursion into the world that her suspicion with the outside population was increasing. Every message she left on my phone after I had forgotten to call with an hourly update was steeped in more feigned anger created to hide the fear of a fallen son. The only thing that scared my mom more than my phrase of greeting was the prospect that she may never hear it again. 

to an African girl with an afro

 your hair is holy

is hallowed

is the name i lost

when i left this continent

locked like you

might do to your 'do


in rain

your curls create diamonds

shining in between the tips of every follicle


you are who i want

my daughter to be


you are a reminder

of the man i haven't been

every time i touch your scalp

you don't let me run


you know that's a cop out

know that's not how i was raised

know that love is an effort


let me braid my fingers

into your folds

massage a secret message into

your roots

with cocoa and shea



my hands hold

the frangrant mixture

of diaspora undone

in their pores

i pray