#BlaPoWriMo: Odyssey of the Tragic Mulatto

Black comes
in many shades
but one—
Too white
I am—
Skin like
alabaster, hair
ruffles in the
breeze like
petals of
Curly in places,
frizzy in places—

Not enough to
stay my father
after three months,
not enough to
inherit the love
of his people—
Meek complexion
reminds them
of my mother,
and grandmother,
my great-grandmother,
how they perched
on pedestals, played
ignorant to their
husbands’ rompings
in the quarters,
abused the
bastard children
and sent them away.

My first love
loved me for my
resemblance to
the white women
he coveted, warned
me I’m no better
with his fists.
Black like him
underneath, with
every blow, he
brought my blackness
to the surface—
Blue bruises
the size of
blot my arms,
Purple boot prints
tread across my
chest and stomach,
red rashes spread
from the fingers
wrapped around my
neck, cutting off air,
black eyes, from every
punch, swell shut,
immersing me in darkness.

When I die, let the
priest open my casket—
Naked, let the world
see the discolored
calluses, a melanin
absorbed through cruelty.
Let no one ever say
I wasn’t black—
I was every black woman,
brutalized and discarded
just the same.

© Nortina Simmons


#BlaPoWriMo: Oh, How I Love Jesus

after “slaveship” by Lucille Clifton

not to be stripped
from Mother’s womb
chained to corpses
and the near dead
cargo traded for
tobacco and rum
in the Hope*  of our
Lord. the heat the
sweat the release
of bowels the stench
of food we never ate
filling our lungs.

Oh, how I love
Jesus*  shipped us
across hostile seas
tossed to and fro
with every wind and
torrent. flung
overboard some of
our own accord into
a world of red faced
savages**  who preached
divine providence—
Sons of Ham
predestined to bow
under the whip.

Oh, how I love Jesus
heard my back
break from the ground
heard arise a wail
song for deliverance
like those who
crossed the Sea of
Reeds on dry land
heard us sing low
from our bellies—
trouble the waters
flush out our pursuers—
and I’ll hope on
the Lord because
He first loved me.

© Nortina Simmons

* “Hope of the Lord”; “Jesus” — Hope and Jesus were names of slave ships

** “red faced savages” — In his Narrative, Olaudah Equiano described his captors having “red faces and loose hair” and behaving in “so savage a manner.”

#BlaPoWriMo: Love is Plucking Splinters

Love is plucking splinters
from underneath fingernails
after we carved our initials
into the bark of the old oak

tree, brown like our skin.
You suck the blood from my
finger—a form of foreplay,
your tongue dancing a pirouette

in your mouth. Prickling taste
buds crawl over the wound like
the feet of centipedes. Fall on
top of me into a pillow of white

cotton fields, where just last
June we snatched crop into
our sacks until our backs
cracked under the cowhide

lash. I trace the scars down
your spine, that extend out
across your shoulder blades
over your ribcage, curling

around your torso, and make
out a hand. And it’s as if the
hand of God pressed you down
into the ground. Into me.

© Nortina Simmons


#BlaPoWriMo: A Lullaby

I watch your eye lashes
when you sleep, jealous
of how far they extend,
curling like decorative
wrought iron gates. What
do you dream when you
lay your head on my
breasts?—Rising and
falling with the rhythm
of our synchronized
breathing. Your lashes
flutter with every exhale,
and I imagine it is me
you see behind your
eyelids. I remember you
once threatened to cut
them, and I met you with
glue over my eyes, that
I could see what you see,
dream what you dream. I
caress your short curls
behind your ear. Cast
your burdens on me, dear
love. The world cares not
about us, our desires
and hopes, but together,
ascension is possible. So
dream on, and let me blow
on your lashes and watch
them shiver in the night.

© Nortina Simmons


#BlaPoWriMo: When Peaches Were in Season

Years later, and I still remember
your ginger hair, red like the sky
just before dusk, after the sun
has set behind the cotton fields,
and we’re back in the quarters,
you lying in hay, my face in the
roots of your crown, smelling the
spiced peaches you prepared for
the Missus. One night you snuck
a jar under the folds of your skirt,
and we hid in the balcony above
the chicken coup, slurping the
slimy sweet fruit between cinnamon
crusted fingers, dripping maple
syrup between wood planks into the
den of orange and brown feathers.
It was the only time you ever kissed
me, leaving behind the sticky,
sugary stain between my nose and
upper lip. I never wiped it off.
Not even when Ol’ Whalen tore my
back raw for loving his wench. Not
when he sent me to the driver to
break me. Not when Mama Celia
delivered your baby lighter than
you. No, not even when they sold
you to the rice plantation in South
Caroline, and I watched you dragged
behind the cart in chains, still
swollen from your recent labor, and
when you turned around one last time
to call goodbye, your crying eyes
leaking streaks of blood. But I still
remember your syrupy lips, fastened to
my rough, wiry beard two seconds shorter
than I wanted it to last, the caramelized
peaches squeezed between your teeth,
your copper hair flipped over your
face, a veil to hide your deepest thoughts,
until I parted the spirally locks
and met your stuffed cheeked grin,
oozing cinnamon and maple peach juice
from the corners of your mouth.

#BlaPoWriMo: Numbers

we count one to ten
in Swahili to the
pulse of djembe . . .


Our voices crescendo
like musical scales . . .


return to steady rhythm,
deep; rising, waiting
for final beat . . .


A slap of the palm at drum’s
center. A vibration lingers,
filling our ancestral void—



This poem is inspired by a Swahili numbers song I learned in summer camp when I was a kid. It’s hard to describe how the song goes without actually singing it, but think of it as a version of Do, Re, Mi that you can actually shake your hips too. And the drumbeat went something like… BOO! ba, da, ba, da, BOO!

All those songs from summer camp are starting to come back . . .