Things I’ve always wanted to tell a black woman, but never had the chance.

I crossed the Atlantic in November
Embarked full of promise in Greenwich
to endure hurricanes and sea sickness
for the land of the free
with its iconic, Technicolor beauty

How they must have suffered
The generation from which you sprang

Plucked from home, like wild violets
then chained below deck
to suffer those roiling coils
the chaos and abuse

I cannot imagine their fear
I do not want to…

From London to the Mason Dixon line
the demarcation of their ultimate despair
I arrived in time to see them
listless, excluded, despondent
so out of place, so far from home

Women beaten but defiant
And sullen, brooding men
sitting on the stoops of old shacks
brand-new Cadillacs in the driveway
Nothing could buy them in
I was the newcomer, but they
fifth-generation born
were still outsiders

Then six months later, amidst fury and protests
a reluctant, awkward attempt at integration
and more hated then
for asking to be included
I saw how in fear
some faces took on a look of scorn
and have worn it ever since
defending from the cruel derisions

All this time
I’ve wanted to say I see you
But you were far away on that shore of isolation
Fearing dangers I could barely sense
and plenty more besides

Enslaved by treacherous and cruel adventurers
by greed and lust, disowned
you can take comfort in knowing
how they had to learn
of their ultimate self-loathing
that your robust matriarchal line
had trekked across continents
given birth to nations
how your ancestral blood
flows through us all

Trampled and struggling,
wounded but awakening,
We could not see you, but you entered
our national consciousness –
and your sadness pierced my heart
when striving to find your voice and worth
and losing your men to blond haired, blue eyed sisters
you sought solace on Oprah, to fiercely speak your pain,

That was back in those good ole’days
before Halle showed up in Hollywood
in that Whowzer! dress
And took home the Oscar
Before Beyonce was a household name
for desirable woman
So now, now that you are one of us
I want to give you your-her-stories
The ones you may have missed
About Jacqueline –
(Yes, forty-odd years later, I still remember her name!)
the only black girl in my 8th grade class
she quietly held the room,
her answers so effortless, surpassed us
I learned from her
to strive for excellence

And on the night of the Midshipman’s Ball
a sister who proclaimed her blackness
a glowing beauty in a white strapless gown
inspired a reverent awe
at her regal entrance
(My cousin told me how drab she felt
how inconspicuous in her presence )

And the sister who inspired this poem
who glided onto the stage one summer
as a “hot n’ juicy Mama”
and regaled us with her shameless confidence and laughter
then she stopped
with poignant, gentle eyes
her mind was calm and clear
to ask
why there were no fairy tales to revere her,
why no prince had travelled far to seek her
who wanted just once… you know,
to be Snow White,
or the fair princess in the tower
to possess that fragile, beauty
that men willingly give their lives for.

To all my dark-skinned sisters I want to say
I hear your longing for a kind word,
a warm caress,
For a lover who knows your true worth

Sweet sister, for all those
who suffered before you,
fainting from their peril, shock and grief
I say let a good prince find his courage
and in a moment of solace,
of kindness too long absent,
reveal to him your undefended face
your true heart, trusting and gentle
Allow yourself your innocence,
though it may make you faint
Surrender, just once, in a graceful swoon,

And may you be cherished and adored
A tender-hearted heroine
of a new era

Begun Aug? 2005 – finished Dec, 2007