Born on the cusp between winter and rain
I took control of my mother’s young body,
grasped handfuls of her insides, held tight and recalcitrant.
I struck my fist against her uterus walls,
reconstructed her function to fit my form,
until I broke every rib, popped every tendon in the hip joints,
touched her in the head, and resentful of this rounds rousing,
I staged a last stand,
cooled her down and burned her up,
refused to run.
Big Ma demanded of the doctor—
Get that child out tonight.
I was heaved into midnight – with old seeing eyes,
the proud point of an elfin chin,
a mouth that was already too fond of running,
I heard Big Ma’s strong voice declare me a changeling child,
she beseeched my mother to send me to Deep South relatives
where the madness would not be catching.
Years later, a former friend,
who raised junkyard mad, fast tail as Friday night,
knocked out my two front teeth for
no other reason than the love of her young life held my hand—
I ambled down the gridlines of city blocks to Aunt Quince’s house,
wind whistling by my ear, sturdy arms flailing,
tears rolling down cheeks, snot and blood smeared
across the top lip, baby teeth left to the concrete,
each step over pronating, my stomach heaving,
what I would not find was pity or comfort
surrounded by the six sepia toned faces of the play cousins
who loved me best and well, fight her or fight us:
As tears flowed down my cheeks, I won in every sloppy fist
that bounced off her less than blameless cheek – apology
in every i. did. not. want. to. do. this. but. you. made. me
as I rained down as cold as the cusp,
a changeling child who turned her mother mad.
A child that never learned her place, I lost my innocence
in every impeccably aimed corrective fist Uncle Eddie laid down.
I would go for his eyes but the backhand across my mouth
echoed down to my toes, the bitch slap tilted my head high,
arched my back concave then convex
before the inelegant crash landing
on the rain slick metal door hinge.
He would sneer, Stop crying
before I give you something to cry about.
I learned to slowly collect my broken body
from the sidewalk, swallow back the pain
and not utter the bitter words.
The ragged edges of the gaping wound
less painful than the secrets buried under cover of midnight;
my Black flesh became accustomed to collecting
physical wounds like misbegotten merit badges.
After the first scab tore, oozed pus and blood
under the yellow and burgundy gold of my school jumper,
I developed perfect posture, because a quickly healed scar
Gangly arms, knock-kneed and buck-tooth,
hail stones and thunder buried in my breastbone,
I attempted to bottle it away.
Sister Barbara counseled me to pray,
to remember the transitory nature of my suffering,
but for every switch I picked, u-shaped welt too tender
to touch, my silent suffering buffered
a rage as prickly as the rose bush switch that tore my skin.
Please understand the reason I pulled the sharpest knife
from the drying rack—I could not take another
I hit you because you need to learn.
The echo sent me back two hundred years,
when the slave-master flayed my back wide for running.
In that life, I learned I could not flee the pain;
I had to fight –
I was born on the cusp between winter and rain.