Poetry by Farah Lawal Harris

Posts tagged “black

Crabs in a Barrel

lack of love for one another
makes dark skin

wins become
wins dig up
words cut skin and wait for

dark skin cutters have words for
they feel pleasure in
as they watch what makes us all the same
seep out
and scab over
and scar.

and only then do they applaud.

Aunt Sarah’s Chirren

Photo by Brandon Allen Photography

what are my chirren’s names?
i done had so many,
seen lives blow through wind like ragweed, mm hmm.
my woman-parts at one time were like
a train station–
men whistlin’, comin’ and leavin’.
i never loved the ones who came,
but the ones who left?
they carry pieces of my heart with them in their pockets,
pull me out of their wallets like crisp dollar bills at the liquor sto’
and roll me and smoke me in their funny cigarettes.
baby, i am like ash,
shakin’ free,
black and grayish-white,
once on fire
but lookin closer to death than life.

Never-Ending Poem

if i could spit a never-ending poem,
i would speak of black womanhood–
of a little girl whose dark-skinned father
looked at his dark-skinned seed and told her
that there’s a secret to erasing their skin:
“Here, wear this cream and the blackness will go away.
Boys will like you more and jobs will open doors
and people will let you in with smiles.”
i would speak of that little girl-child,
how she listened to her father
and observed her light-skinned, beautiful mother
and rubbed whiteness on her skin,
how lightness did not come,
but instead painful bumps and itchy rash
and tears in the mirror and her dad who said,
“Maybe that one was too strong. I will get you a gentler one.”
the girl who shook her head “No”
and accepted her darker fate…
kind of.

i would speak of that girl
who grew up with big titty-denial,
of the time her best friend pulled her to the side,
looked her in the eye
and told her “Your bra is too small.”
the girl who prayed and prayed for pubic hairs to grow,
who searched her mom’s medicinal herb books
for a recipe to start menses.
“Maybe if I drink a tea or take a vitamin,
blood will come and I’ll be a woman.”
blood came in its time
and so did boys
who ignored her face and got lost in her breasts.
as years went on,
they got lost in her booty, her hips.
more years went on
and they got lost in her smile, her eyes, her skin.
more years went on
and they got lost in her hair.
more years went on and they got lost in her “no”
that was too quiet.

i would speak of her insecurities
that helped men mold her like clay
into a woman who appeared strong with a mean face,
but crumbled like wet sand castles upon touch;
a woman who craved touch so much
that it hurt her
so she exchanged touch for God,
then back for touch,
then back for God,
then back for touch,
then traded it back for God,
and then back for touch,
and then back for more touch,
and then back for touch,
and then who was God?
there was only touch.
and then touch got too much
and then what was God?
and then touch fucked her up
and then where was God?
i mean “Who is God?”
i mean “What is God?”
i mean…”There is God!”
“Here is God!”
“Wait…where is God?”
i would speak of her questions
that rolled on and on,
her definitions that changed,
and how she got different,
but stayed the same.

if i could spit a never-ending poem,
i would speak of black womanhood,
of my own stories,
those of my sisters
and all the things we’ve seen,
felt, loved, cried over, laughed about,
screamed about,
of moments where death wasn’t near enough,
and then those times where love filled us up
but i’m afraid
time just isn’t enough,
our stories are too much,
my voice would dry up.

Newborn Baby Tears for My Old Self

sometimes i still cry for the old me
and i feel guilty cuz
the new me is

but i miss the old me’s extremes–
blind faith and concrete
black and white ideals
until evil jet black pushed into petrified pink
surprisingly, painfully.

suffering isn’t ideal.
neither are tears and grief
for a version of myself
mummified by cries that came so often
that when tears ran out,
a new woman appeared:

tougher skin,
sharper words,
deeper melancholy buried in
soft soil of smiles
and brutal honesty.
she is beauty all while
crying internally,
confused at her existence:
a newborn baby
with a 25-year-old body.

History Unstuck

on November 4, 2008,
the evening of election day
CNN projected that Barack Obama
was the candidate
who had won.

surrounded by cheers, i couldn’t celebrate,
sayin, “these suckas done stole the election once”
so i’ll scream and shed tears when this whole thing is done–
afraid to get my hopes up
because hope takes audacity
and when i look at history,
we were dismissed.

defined as inferior,
spent days familiar
with crops, working fields,
rarely seeing interiors,
unless it was the interior
of slave shacks, you know,
nights with master on slave woman’s back,
birthing babies that lacked
a sense of family
because brokenness was the system,
spreading confusion so that to be black
almost equated with being victim;
pulled from homelands and sold on blocks
was the way to do things,
auctioning off humans like art or antique rings.
we were beaten,
scars forming shapes of trees on backs
with branches not long enough for us to climb
but deep enough for them to find
their way into souls that birthed generations of babies
still feeling the sting of whips.

we were whipped into shape
on the day emancipation came
so slaves became men,
no longer four fifths
just always dismissed,
debt staying constant
no money in pockets,
still poor but at least there was a trap door
that could be closed and opened at night
to see crosses burning at night
who knew shadows could be white?
“Mama, they look like ghosts…”
threatened hearts beat with fright
and sometimes they even cry
but you can’t hear them as well
when vocal cords are constricted by ropes
as unprotesting eyes look forward.

but we had to look back,
thirsty, but certain water fountains would lack
the fluid to match our skin color;
so we had to look back,
to learn what happens to dreams deferred and wonder if they fester;
so we had to look back
to brave souls like soldiers who sat at segregated lunch counters;
so we had to look back,
to hear the voices of prophets like Dr. King,
turning our ears to the past
so that we could hear freedom ring
and echo in our dreams and perhaps become fact.
look back to Malcolm X and his place in history,
even if you don’t agree,
he inspired our reality.

we were beautiful,
growing stronger with each casualty,
pulling strength from the act of burying,
being replenished by hoses with water pressuring
us to stop
but the clock ticked on.
we were beautiful and so was black
and we were vocal, using platforms to speak so many truths
that lies got scared and shook in their boots
and found a way to crack us–
crack broke some backs of us,
money ruled some of the best of us,
and soon our scariest enemies were…us.

but us wasn’t all bad and never was,
because all that there ever was
to identify us was our skin
and that one drop of blood,
like light rain on a window pane
romantic to some, but to others
it’s just rain,
without which the earth couldn’t survive.
showers on our heads keep dreams alive,
but sometimes i stay dry,
feeling that it’s better to suffocate hope
than try to keep her alive
but on that night,
November 4, 2008
tears filled my eyes and the weather changed
and the course of history finally turned the page.
no longer did i have to look back,
thinking of the way we were
but i had to look forward.

i had to look forward
with binoculars on my eyes,
seeing the prospect of a black president
the spirit of yes we can, yes we did
and we’ll do it again;
fueled by inspiration,
truth defying times are in my eyes,
joy fills my heart
and my soul cries out with gratitude
oh the magnitude
of what we used to be
and what we have become.

Video of Me Performing “Exotic Beauty”

Hi everyone!  Here is another video of me performing.  This is my poem, “Exotic Beauty” (click here to read the poem) at an event in Washington, D.C. I did last week called “Women, Words, and Power!” (done in association with The Essential Theatre).  I was one of nine female spoken word artists who performed.

I’ll warn you that the video quality isn’t great, but hey… 🙂 Enjoy!

Ode to Black Man

black man,
you are the still waters where bystanders pass time by
throwing pebbles on
with the hope that they will skip.
i see you as you ripple every which way
from that which is thrown at you
but still you manage not to break.
you are fluid,
cool, transforming when you need to
but still remaining faithful
to the form that is you…

your strength is like metal chains
that after time build rust
but still are solid enough
to keep the gates of innocent lives shut.
danger shakes when she sees you,
chooses to walk on the other side of the street,
shudders at your power
and that’s what it is about you
that captures me.

black man,
i love you despite the ones who look like you
who hurt me.
i’ve learned to treat them as exceptions
and regard you as excellent.
your smile
has the capacity to stretch my heart that once shrank
and let it cover all of me
so that beating flesh moves from my chest
and onto my sleeves.
you are as pure as guitar strings
strumming acoustic sounds
that speak to my soul.
you are a drug which relieves tension
and melts away all that i try to control.

i won’t go as far as to say
you fill the hole in me,
the one that nags at me late at night
because despite the happiness you might
bring to my life,
you are not God–
but you do look like Him,
like when you laugh,
i see His reflection
and when we embrace,
i catch a glimpse of God’s face.

black man,
you hold the world on your shoulders
with strong arms, solid legs
and a back that has been stabbed
and i see you bleeding.
i wish i had enough rags to stop the blood,
wish i had enough sand to stop your flood,
wish i had enough patience to wait for your love
and enough discipline
to not be sitting on the side of the water again,
throwing pebbles at you
with the hope that they will skip.
i see you as you ripple every which way
from that which is thrown at you
but still you manage not to break.

Black in America

is blackness a curse?
they’re trying to kill us.
the darker brother and sister are put on display
like slaves
in an open market.
they’re trying to kill us,
letting us choose our own death
whether it’s how we ingest, protect, or have sex,
it all results in the same effect.
Uncle Sam is the overseer,
lashing us with the whip of the economy,
sugar cane is liquor and weed,
cotton and tobacco is money,
our diet is poison
and we are our biggest enemies.
we are trying to kill us.
is blackness a curse?
a voodoo magic trick
to be put on display for the world?
as much as and as often as i
would like to deny
connection to what is plaguing us,
i can’t.
i am part of the family put up for sale today
and there’s no possibility of hiding,
my dark skin gives me away
and there’s no way to move past
calls from bill collectors every day
so i too am a slave,
moving between the field and the house,
moving between my dreams and security,
between reality and fantasy,
fighting the notion
that blackness is a disease.
but perhaps we are airborne
because parts of us spread into society…
we all breathe
in the blackness,
breathe out the oppression,
in the beauty,
breathe out the lessons,
in the answers,
breathe out the question:
is blackness a curse?

Forget Hancock!

Justice League, Fantastic Four, X-Men and Spidey,
all kind of cool but for Hancock i have no need.
i can’t say i was truly surprised to see
that the only black superhero just had to be angry,
constantly sippin, constantly trippin,
ruining everything he touched,
constantly cussin, threatening violence
and i thought it was all a bit much
that he couldn’t get it together until
a white man came to change his life
and after all the man did for him,
Hancock still ran up on his wife.

does anyone else realize that Hollywood is pimpin us?
luring us with stereotype candy wrapped in jokes,
banking on the fact that we will remain unprovoked
by what we see on the silver screen,
blind to the fact
that in a film based in L.A.,
the majority of the Latinos and blacks
were not walking down the street, but inmates
and that it is no mistake
that the Middle Eastern store-owner’s English
was not so great.

i don’t need a black superhero
crafted by an industry out to get paid
because in real life, black superheroes
walk around every day
fight adversity and still find strength in them to pray,
face temptation to take shortcuts but still choose the right way
go to work so they can take care of their families
and raise their children so that the next generation could see
brighter days.
bullets may not bounce off of them
but they still can save the world because
their superhuman power is to survive
so forget Hancock!
real black superheroes don’t have to leave the ground
to fly.

Black Nostalgia

old black men love me
when i appear in their view,
eyes get brighter and burdens don’t feel
as heavy,
the corners of their mouths awaken because
when they see me
they see the 70’s.
i am reminiscent of another era,
of times of relaxation, groove, and black pride,
a time when black women took pride
in how they were born and contemporary times
hadn’t yet made them ashamed of their backsides.
hips celebrated while struttin down streets in hot pants,
quality music rotating on records so smoothly that life was a dance.
i wish i could go back
to this time i never knew,
pull out some afro sheen and a pick and
not have to feel like my hair and personality is too big and
exchange my stretch jeans and MAC lipstick for
a leather jacket and hope that my people would never forget
that black is beautiful!

i wish i could be a soul sista,
you know the type of sista
who lives on movie posters like Pam Grier
rockin sexy outfits and not scared
to walk alone at night.
you know the type of sista
who lives in documentaries
like Angela Davis, rollin with revolutionaries
to serve and protect the black community,
standing up against the ills of society,
willing to go to jail if it means
keeping up the fight.

i wish i could be a soul sista,
providing more than just twinkles in eyes
and smiles as my elders sweetly say “Hi”
not to me, but to their past.
i wish i could go back
to that time i never knew and retract
all the wrongs of today and extract
all the joys of yesterday,
using my afro and skin to honor and celebrate
the black nostalgia in old black men
who love me.

Monkey Babies

*Written July 5, 2008*

i was watching TV the other night and i saw
rich people buying monkeys to raise them as babies.
what ever happened to adoption?
as another black child or baby is in foster care crying or getting abused,
rich white people are buying colorful satin dresses to put on little monkeys with diapers.
they’re “part of the family” and go everywhere with them.
they get fed lollipops and McDonald’s french fries even when they’re bad
and i wonder about that suffering child watching TV wherever they are
and seeing a monkey getting fed fries and
wondering when they’ll get their share.
grabbing at the screen,
they realize too that a monkey is preferable to them,
more desired company,
then they see a three minute commercial about protecting the dog community,
and realize that this world has no concern for human beings.

District of Columbia v. Heller

*Written June 26, 2008*

gun ban lifted in the District…
will the homicide now escalate?
will parents be any more afraid
to let their children play outside?
the last time i checked
some kids get shot by bullets
rushing through windows by surprise
so will the fact that handguns are legal
make any difference for black people?
will Chocolate City have cherry syrup dripping over its brim?
will the blood of potential, the white cell count of future leaders
diminish as if the four quadrants were infected by AIDS within?
it’s seems like there is no aid–
the chocolate melts and goes sour,
vanilla sneaks in to diminish it’s strength like water,
parents protect your sons and daughters,
cuz it’s dark and the summer is hot
pressure spreads until there is no room
and all i can hear approaching in the distance is…
all i can hear approaching in the distance is….
all i can hear approaching in the distance is…

The System is a Joke

*Written June 24, 2008*

the system is a joke
we sit with our popcorn and soda
in comfortable seats that lean back
and chit chat and laugh at the punchlines
we forget that what we see on the screen
is for some people reality
black man slain by the police
and all officers are acquitted
soldiers die in the name of freedom
countless anonymous others killed
in a senseless war of greed
ha ha
R. Kelly pisses on a teenage girl on tape
gets off free and
sings about it
ha ha ha
countless women raped,
dragged through the system
only for cases to be dropped
for lack of sufficient evidence
ha ha ha ha ha
laugh with me!
stomp your feet and slap your thigh
let your eyes fill up with tears
tap your neighbor and share in the moment
put your feet up
and let your eyes adjust to the darkness
that surrounds you
because as long as you stay disconnected
as long as you’re complacent
and eat the junk that’s given to you,
unless you are provoked,
this system
these lives
these lies
are all a joke.

What Went Wrong?

*Written June 18, 2008*

a crazy black man
in the midst of mumbling madness
and missing teeth
called me a BITCH!
i paused
cuz at that moment time stopped
my heart dropped
my jaw popped back
about to reply…
but i shut it
chuckling at what the man uttered
not in a private disagreement
or altercation
but directly to a stranger
entering the train station

i could have
let out a cry
i could have in the spirit of U.N.I.T.Y. replied
but instead i’m sitting here questioning why…
what went wrong
in between this man’s departure from his mother’s hips
to this rainy evening in tattered clothes and dirty lips,
nonsensical phrases, broken dreams,
daymares and lack of sleep,
no pillow to rest on, just a trash heap,
to the point where death is a fantasy
and life is a disease?
what went wrong
that a black man the age of my father
tries to break down a girl the age of his daughter
and commit generational slaughter?

but little did he know
that a wise woman taught her
to redefine what once brought her
to anger.
now that i look back,
i wish i could have
thanked him,
expressed gratitude for his expression
for in his effort to insult, he reminded me that
B-I-T-C-H is no longer my oppression
cuz this blossoming black beauty
throughly treasures
Control of