DaMaris B. Hill
(a love poem for a younger self)
Little Wonder, your heels be steady.
They plant lightning in the Earth.
This one way you hum.
Your song is a peace that cracks concrete.
The vibration is a nectar that heals.
Little Wonder, slow your marching.
I am running swiftly behind,
attempting to catch up, with my arms
extended, my breath trying to lock
in your hair. I am desperate to
reach you. My toenails are flaking.
I am falling from my flesh. The lava
of my veins gushes.
Little Wonder, your heart and fists,
they are pendulums. They swing,
pumping toward heaven, propelling
past and post-present. I am too
slow to even catch a glimpse
of your wrists. Is that where
you keep your wings? They are
a blur at this pace.
Little Wonder, curious and confused,
water cheerleader wannabe,
may I fashion you a throne?
May I carry you on my shoulders
as I praise you with my pen?
Make a drum of my head.
In our first and second tongues,
tell me the stories that stretch the holes
of history. Teach me how to call the
forgotten names. Crisscross your ankles
before my heart. Your arches resting round
my breast, I will rub the calluses
from your feet with my hair. Dry them
with my lashes in bursts of worship.
Dickey Moe traveled up and down Broad Street like a clot in a vein, flaring up and exposing himself to whoever was looking. Throwing his overcoat open like an unlaced shoelace on a quick-moving roller skate, he left us undone.
We were always on the lookout for him, this Cuban man. His nose was a jumbo cashew carved into an ashy coconut. Our eyes would surf the stone and standing crowds for him. We had to walk 2.3 miles to and from school. We went out of our way to be educated, because they labeled us gifted. We were in middle school, fixin’ to be women, well on our way, observant and practicing in every instance. We would be walking, watering the concrete with our sweat and switching if we saw something worth winking at. We would be the whole way through Downtown, under the tracks and Uptown in under an hour. Uptown is where we had choices, a bit or relief from our Dickey Moe duties. We would choose a way to walk and Dickey Moe, with his unshaven body, stubble on his head and chest, some of it silver, could choose another direction. We would use our words and his absence to warn him that he better choose the other.
You smelled him before he showed. Cheap wine was his aura; it lingered like the image of his large cock leaping toward you when he threw back the wicked wings of his weathered coat. We were careful to be on guard for Dickey Moe, jumping out of gray doorways or stumbling from behind bricks and buses, boasting his manhood, stiffening the spines of middle school girls. We watched for him, this villain who some had mistaken for a vagrant.
And once we passed the first pizza shop, the one that had the thick crust and water sauce, we made our way through Downtown, crossed under the tracks, and used our memories and new math to count our coins. We would stop at the corner store as a reward, after we had gone on up and around Uptown and then safely into our neighborhood. This is before the solo strolls of my tree-lined street.
On the warmest days, we would take the longer way, the way that passed the law offices and courthouse. In such daylight Dickey Moe would not be near. Then we’d right our walk past Messy’s apartment building. We don’t know him or lust yet, so there is no need to be alarmed. Next to this building is a Catholic school, and with little worries on the last bits of our journey, we talk, like good girlfriends do—in giggles, describing all the ways we were going to get the boy we desired. Our plans are elaborate. We call his home at a certain hour and speak real sweet to his mama when she answers. Plan to stroll through his neighborhood, a few days later, looking for some elusive loose candy that isn’t sold Uptown. We list the people, counting on our fingers. We say the names of the people who we will interview about his likes and his associations. We are smart and will figure out the details, like which of his friends have to be distracted in order to make room for the romances we are planning, discussing and discovering what kind of kisses he will like and where he would lay them on “us.” And as we giggled our whole bodies responded in a glow, even the new parts seemed to bobble. Our laughter was fragrant like bubbles from fancy dish detergent. When I feel my breast fold in like a red clown’s nose and as my hands go to collect all that has been deflated in this stranger’s hand, I realize that I must be a freak; not only was I fluffy in every way possible, but my voice box must be stored in my breast, and when this stranger touches me, my protests evaporated like a belch.
By the time I find my screams, the kind that sail in stares, he is a whole half a block away. I want to yell at him, but my best friend, my first line of defense and only protector, shushes me. Bestie tells me to “shake it off.” Tells me “it is nothing.” And that “it would happen all the time and over again.” Twisting my head “no,” I believe her and now I wonder how she knew.
We never saw the freshly ironed Asian man cornering me in the straights of the block. He faded into the landscape, probably a lawyer. There were no warnings. Not even the stench of Dickey Moe. There was no dramatic dress coat or king-sized cock. Without those weapons, this man crooked my spine, latched on until that was good and girl in me was gone. Made my breasts some gristle between his fingers.
DaMaris B. Hill, "Continuous Fire" and "Gristle," from Breath Better Spent: Living Black Girlhood (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022). Copyright © 2022 DaMaris B. Hill. Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.
DaMaris B. Hill, Ph.D., is the author of Breath Better Spent: Living Black Girlhood, A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, an NAACP Image Award Finalist; The Fluid Boundaries of Suffrage and Jim Crow: Staking Claims in the American Heartland; and poetry collection, \Vi-ze-bel\Teks-chers\ (Visible Textures). An associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky, Hill’s creative process and scholarly research are both interdisciplinary.