Against the Current: Collective works on State Violence, identity and Resistance

Miss Arlene


For Miss A


(november 1st)

woman with booming voice

still shudders with cracks you can

hear through the bullet holes

in her speech she’ll always

ask you how you’re doing, she

will not forget your name

she remembers every syllable

every vibrato that has come through

her ears her gate her life

she will not forget anything you’ve

ever told her, she has never

forgotten a single thing life has

delivered to her, she will never

forget her son’s death her sister’s death

her mother’s death her nephew’s death

death sits with her at her guard post

she watches over us checking safety

listening to us for signs of decay

she knows the warning signs she prepares

us for the worst too, gotta be ready for

anything she says, do your work she says

gotta do all the work you can put up as

many sandbags as you can, you never

know floods will come the dams will break.


(november 8th)

she tells me to go vote takes no excuse

no time, it’s raining, I have work—

no bullshit she tells me African Americans

still can’t vote everywhere (I mention it hasn’t

even been a hundred years for women) and

she repeats some African Americans still can’t vote

her face shaking throwing her cheeks side to side

her eyes-- so fierce they lock on to me ordering

direct, her mothering style is effective, I start moving

getting my feet into gear she hands me her umbrella

don’t matter that it’s raining there’s a worse storm

than that brewing she cries out she tells me she

has never missed an election you always have time to vote,

black people died to vote-- this is the work you have to do,

take my umbrella she repeats

she sends me on my way


(november 16th)

I ask if she wants anything

while I’m on break-- No, don’t

eat sugar anymore, clean eating now

sugar doesn’t soothe the mind the way it used to

Baby, sugar’s got a bad history a bad rep don’t

want no bones in my closet,

she wants to keep her weight down stay

healthy stay ready for life to come swinging.

Refuses the boys’ fried chicken from popeyes too

Can you believe they don’t believe I don’t eat chicken

Why I gotta eat some caged thing trying to learn to fly

she sits on her post, hawk eye feathers fluttering

Resolving trouble, nesting furiously

trying her best to keep the flood gates closed.


(december 7th)

Miss Arlene tells me how excited she is for break--

She asks me question after question about home

what am I excited for her chattering keeps me going

She keeps me positive her voice keeps me awake

your memory is amazing Miss Arlene I tell her

She remembers every detail about my mother where

I’m from what I do the bad shifts we shared

I ask her if she writes and that sets her off her

Mind is a race horse it’s racing mine and mine

can’t keep up I’m on her tail she tells me about the

Beautiful journals she has,  the gifts she’s been given

Leather journals big ones small ones of all sizes she

tells me she’s ready to start writing again this break

She’s got some empty pages to fill I ask her if I can

read some of her stuff and she tells me she used to have

boxes and boxes of writing of muses of light of beauty

but she had to leave them behind with some bad relationships

She left everything behind, even a flat screen tv, jewelry,

Beautiful clothes bad relationships gotta purge it all

She doesn’t need materialistic things she only took

Her work clothes and herself with her when she left

She tells me she doesn’t need things she gives every

Thing to charity when she can she left all her journals

behind at her ex-husband's house fists can bust

down pages can bust down walls she can leave

them all behind burn the pages burn the walls

Leave, leave, leave and start again she does it

twice no fire no flood can stop her from singing

She keeps singing the whole shift she asks me if

I like bruno mars and I tell her I like anything

that keeps her smiling her face kept turning kept

shaking when talking about her ex husband her

old boyfriend the way her face twitched could

see the blows coming back across her face could

feel the wrong moving through her bones even

when retelling she keeps on moving she doesn’t stop

no flood no fire can stop her from singing she is

a strong woman she doesn’t need no material items

she’s got her uniform and her voice and a big old smile.

(all italics are direct quotes)


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