Engage & Learn

apocrypha

“Black women are an endangered species”

- HIV activist Suzanna Engo

 

i could tell you how little girls grow

up grow girls little how you tell

 

i could speak in backwards

words back in speak could i

 

cause we can’t speak of this forwards

 

her lips are tied in his like shoelaces in fingers

before she learned how he doubledutched them

into bows worthy of little girls’ foreheads

on sundays

 

he says: it’s safer this way

loose laces don’t mix with fast paces

wouldn’t want you to trip and ruin

how pretty your face is

 

and her lips are tied like this

even lying on mattresses

lightly finger painting canvasses

but he craves masterpieces

with bigger brush strokes

 

simon says: go

and he asks nicely but she knows

what simon says goes

and she’s only saying no

with her eyes, a language

he can’t recognize

more ancient than abc’s

but he’s too busy writing

latin stems against her hem

with tongue-inked pen

 

she’s starring at the ceiling

tyring to keep from screaming

singing soft songs in her head like:

 

red rover red rover came over

came rover red rover red

should have listened to what mama said

sweaty hands don’t do no good

at keeping out strangers

who come in without wiping

their feet at the door

 

they don’t leave even after you’ve fed them

everything you’ve got

they won’t leave until you do

you til un leave won’t they

 

we can’t speak of this

 

orange canisters

with white plastic lids

doctors feed her this

peer at her with pity eyes

like: what a shame you is

can’t even save yourself

from your own sins

 

miss mary mack

all colored black

with purple bruises

all down her back

her body don’t

belong to her anymore

she wonders if it ever did

ever it if wonders she

 

these impolite guests play hide go seek

in tiny hallways beneath her skin

they always win and she stays popping pills

trying to feel normal again

 

i could tell you how little girls grow

up grow girls little how you tell

i could speak in backwards

words back in speak could i

 

cause we can’t speak of this forwards

we can’t speak of this with words

just red loop ribbons on shirts

days made to remind us to remember

newscasts stats and numbers

but what she’s lost can’t be measured

and we can’t speak of this for words

 

can’t ever explain

 

 

* from the Greek, meaning “those things hidden

 

This poem was written by Jamila Woods. Jamila is a recent graduate of Brown University with a B.A. in Performance Studies and Africana Studies and is a prominent spoken word performer in Chicago.