Before you know

what hate really is
you must feel it in your bones;
hand-shaking anger that skips up collarbones;
hate plays on your chest like a xylophone
and lodges itself in your throat,
crushes the song from your vocal chords.

Hate is a knee on your trachea.

Did hate feel that suffocating to you?
That you had to choke the air out of another human?
Did hate send you out the door,
gun in hand,
to bring home a dead body
heavy on your shoulders?

Or was it fear?

Before you are acquainted with fear,
you must return to childhood,
when every shadow of a tree is a monster;
before the tree was the monster,
with the dead body of a black boy who ran away,
left hanging as a symbol for all the world to see.

All the world saw and held their breath;

When George Floyd died in the span of seven minutes,
on international news, I held my breath, too,
and wondered what, or how, I would tell my daughter.
My summer girl, who has already contemplated the meaning
of her black skin, when a boy at seven years old told her
“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

The magic left her. 

You don’t know what loss really is,
until you’re at a loss for words,
and have to talk the magic back into your girl
and remind her how much magic she truly has
and tell her: black is not ugly.

Leah, your black is so beautiful. 

An uprising ignites when my daughter asks about another black death on the news,
and tells me, at age nine,
“I don’t want to die because of the colour of my skin.”
Hate is the lump in my throat that I swallow back,
while anger curls in my fingertips
and splits my knuckles from the inside out.

Hate was the knee on George Floyd’s trachea. 

Hate was women at church looking at my daughter’s ultrasound picture
and whispering about her “black lips” and “black nose.”

Hate is more names than I bear to list,
more names than I could possibly list;
Hate is a list of names that could be a poem on their own. 

Hate stopped and frisked.
Hate put a racist president in the White House.
Hate pulled my daughter out of an airport line
and searched through her hair. 

Hate told my daughter she wasn’t beautiful,
but Leah, your black is so so beautiful. 

Before you know what hate really is,
you need to stop, look in the mirror,
and stare it in the face.
And when you see it,
put your hands up,
Don’t. Shoot. 

Or do. 

When you finally know the hate in you,
eradicate it. Abolish it. Emancipate it.
Carve it out of your bones,
Dislodge it from your throat,
keep screaming until there’s nothing left. 

With all the hate I am acquainted with,
I will keep screaming until there’s nothing left;
and when there’s nothing else left, I will say again:

Leah, your black is so beautiful.


© Maxine L. Peseke, June 19 2020

 

Guest Poet:

leahandmax
Maxine, and her eldest daughter Leah; Christmas 2019.

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively (and most recently) where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

rooted

My toes are prone to nails ingrown;
I keep digging up my nailbeds,
like a gardener turns soil to help
flowers grow,

Though my feet were not made for flowers,
so maybe I’m made of more tree limbs;
but resounding cracks are telltale
sign of a forest falling

Because my roots never took to ground.

I am prone to uprooting myself–
there is an inherent urge to move
crawling under my skin,
limbs thirsty for solid ground;

My roots tangled up
somewhere between Chesapeake Bay
and the muddy Rio Grande;
over-watered in Georgia’s swamp lands.

And Northern Ontario’s long, harsh winters
see so much time for roots to freeze–
this ground is frozen-hard
long into spring.

But then maybe I was never a tree
never flowering dogwood, dancing in the breeze
or strong pinon pine, stretching to the sky,
nor wizened oak or mighty maple-tree.

The truth is I never identified
with constant perennial things.
I never thought of myself as
everlasting;

I always wished to be a bird
and my patterns of coming and going,
like migration, supported that:
I am notorious for leaving.

I am prone to preening:
prettying up like peacock,
but more like a rock dove:
hardy/hearty (but not much to look at).

Recently, I’ve preened so much
my feathers have begun to fall out
and fail my wish for flight

(though there are those that could fly,
and instead use their battered feet:
like a roadrunner in the desert light) 

But at least my tangled roots and faulty feathers
have proven to be
a fine nest  — built for two —

Daughters, who are still trying to spread their wings
like their mother would like to do;

Daughters, who plant flowers
with their every blessed step;

Daughters, who have taught me
that I was never meant to be a tree,
but maybe that’s where my home
was meant to be.

And I can have wings,
And still be steady.


© Maxine L. Peseke, April 2020
artwork by Katrina K Guarascio

 

Guest Poet:

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively (and most recently) where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.