#BlaPoWriMo: Persistent prayer

pregnant woman in light blue dress that is open in the center, revealing her stomach

I pray that when my daughter grows up, she
will live in a world where she owns her body,

where she can lift her voice and sing praises
to a God above without fear of machine gun fire,

where her choice of spouse is not dictated by how
many seats are occupied in the Supreme Court,

where she will be challenged because of her mind
and not because of the kinks and coils atop her head,

where she will never have to unload funeral caskets from yellow
buses, where she can send her children to school and expect

them to be taught the same histories she learned as I:
I have a dream; let freedom ring; we shall overcome.

I pray my daughter will grow up to live in a world where
she will be free at last from a history doomed to repeat.

© 2023 Nortina Simmons

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#BlaPoWriMo: Rest

abendstimmung agriculture back light cereal

A Black History Month Senryu

Beat me til I’m stiff
In the ground, I lay my soul
To rest, finally.

© 2023 Nortina Simmons

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#BlaPoWriMo: 90th Birthday Revisited

Not quite a century,
but a lifetime of memories.
Just turned 90,
but living like he’s 60.
A daughter, a son,
four grandchildren,
and two great-grand heirs,
all responsible for every one
of his gray hairs.
What makes a birthday
memorable when you’ve
celebrated eighty-nine?
Thanking God 
for the blessing of time.
Time to spend with cherished 
loved ones and friends,
never worrying
about when it will end.
Because a life like this 
is one that will last,
in our hearts, in our minds,
in reminiscing the past.
So many happy returns, CM dear, 
cheers to another fulfilling year.
Make a wish,
blow out the candles.
Hey, pop the cork— 
you’re old enough—
and enjoy this birthday
celebration from all of us.

© 2019-2023 Nortina Simmons

Originally written for my Granddaddy’s 90th birthday. He’ll be 94 next month. Do you think if I change a couple words (“a great-grand heir” became “two great-grand heirs” in 2021) and send it to him again, he’ll remember?

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#BlaPoWriMo: Natural Business

Black woman with afro standing with back to camera and touching wall

“Oh, your hair is different,”
the hiring manager says as she studies
my driver’s license,
searching for a resemblance
between the tiny, blurred, scratched
photograph taken five years ago
in her hand and the woman
who sits before her.

And as much as I want to,
I don’t leap across the table,
grab her by the shoulders and shake this
blond, straight-haired woman,
who can effortlessly run
her fingers through her silky tresses
without snagging a single-strand knot,
and scream, “My hair doesn’t look like that
in the morning!”

I restrain myself,
sit erect—legs crossed—smile and nod.
After years of working low-wage jobs in
transportation and fast food,
matting down a twist-out
I spent hours perfecting the night before
underneath a sweaty cotton cap,
I finally get called for
the job of my dreams,
and the first question
my potential boss asks
is about my hair.

And although my hair
in the driver’s license photo
barely came to my chin,
was riddled with split ends,
thinned at the crown from
the strong alkali-based cream
I applied every six weeks
to tame rough, nappy new growth,
had a scalp that grew more
scabs than hair follicles
from the many times I waited by the sink
for my beautician to finish gossiping
with her other clients
about who got who pregnant
to come put out the burning
flame atop my head,
it was still better because
it was straight.

I wonder if my “different” hair
would cost me this job,
if “be yourself”
was just something you told
bullied children in school.
Workroom discrimination
only meant something if
you looked like the White
women you worked alongside,
because since the day scientists
trespassed onto African savannahs and
measured the bigger
breasts, buttocks, and labia,
of the dark-skinned “jezebel” woman,
they determined that fair
skin and hair were the
definitions of beauty and purity,
never to be defiled.
So my hair must be
pulled, ripped, burned to fit
a nonexistent, unattainable
European standard of beauty
until I become a pinned-up, painted-on
android. Not White, not Black, just there,
but acceptable because of my hair.
Straight, combed back,
uniform in Stepford fashion.

From an early age,
young girls and young boys
are indoctrinated to choose
conformity over health.
Man up!
Lose weight!
Comb your hair!

It doesn’t matter that my hair
is softer than cotton,
isn’t ruined when wet,
has grown past my bra strap,
doesn’t require heat
or flammable aerosols
to hold a spiral curl,
can reach toward the sky or
hang over my shoulders,
be pinned up into a bun or
braided down my back,
twisted to resemble locs or
curled to frame my face,
picked out into an afro or
flat ironed straight.
If it doesn’t comply
with the unwritten
clause in the dress code:
No ethnic hair!
I won’t be hired.
I’ll just look for a job where
ethnicity is required.

© 2015-2023 Nortina Simmons

Originally published March 20, 2015.

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#BlaPoWriMo: Hair Crisis

Fluff up the frizz,
pull down the coils—
I’m torn.
The song tells me
I am not my hair,
but my reflection glares
back, demanding an
Why do I think this…
lion’s mane…
is appropriate for
the corporate office?
For walking on sidewalks
behind White women
clutching expensive purses?
For PTA meetings about
strict dress codes, bans
against colors red and blue,
bandannas in back pockets,
tank tops whose namesake
promotes domestic violence,
“distracting” hairstyles?
My afro enters the room
before I do. Everyone
turns, stares, mouths agape.
The atmosphere freezes.
I float in limbo while
they decide what to call
my hair.
It’s like a hat,
like a firework,
an overgrown bush.
Chop it down with shears,
with weed whackers.
It’s unkempt, nappy.
It is defiant toward gravity,
stiff under patting hands
molding it into a shape
more tolerable. It is
the fear of militant Negros
fist-fighting the Klansmen
buried in their backyards.
It is the severed limbs
of my enslaved ancestors
rising from my scalp,
reaching up, out, catching
freedom in the wind, in
low hanging branches, in
lost Bobby pins that
cannot tame my

©  2016-2023 Nortina Simmons

Originally published April 8, 2016.

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#BlaPoWriMo: An insomniac’s prayer

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

Mark 5:25-30 (NIV)

Sweet sleep,
you have evaded me
for the last time.

Tonight, I will throw myself
to the ground and snatch you
by the hem of your garment,

praying my faith will heal me.
Forgive me of the sins that so
easily ensnare me, Lord.

Cleanse me of unrighteousness
that rides my back, corrupts
my mind, and bleeds me of life.

Did you feel the power of God’s Spirit
leave you and flow through me?
Then turn around and lift me up.

With a kiss, grant your beloved
sweet, restful, peaceful sleep
surpassing all understanding.

I love you, Jesus.
God, I thank you for saving me.
In your Mighty Name, I pray.


© 2023 Nortina Simmons

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

— Proverbs 3:24 (NIV)

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#BlaPoWriMo: Your skin is the sun

Your skin is the sun
Looking upon you
brightens my day,
and when I fall
into your embrace
I am brought to life

© 2023 Nortina Simmons

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#BlaPoWriMo: I suck your lips

close up of black womans lips with red lipstick

Love Haiku #20

I suck your lips like
dark grapes from the vine. Merlot,
I’m drunk on your love

© 2023 Nortina Simmons

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#BlaPoWriMo: I wash my hair in his lap

woman with dreadlocks lying on the floor

I wash my hair in his lap.
Squeeze out the excess water
and lay me down to dry.
My locs stretch across the carpet
like fingers. They marry and
divide as branches of a family tree,
and our naked bodies are the trunk.

© 2023 Nortina Simmons

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#BlaPoWriMo: Farewell

Squeeze my finger one last time,
your stubby digits enclosed around
my knuckles. You look just like
your father before they disfigured
his face with iron muzzle, bit
down his tongue on rusted metal.

I will always remember the way your
eyes slowly open, adjusting to the
morning sun, how you upchuck just
a little on my breast from nursing
too hurriedly. Let that hunger for
your mother never go away—

Even when you can no longer hear my
voice, when my touch is cool, faint
from the distance, when they beat
you ’til your back blisters open and
your muslin shirt irritates the
wounds my hands cannot heal.

Your cries will echo forever, and
one day when this system crumbles
on its head, and our chains are
broken free, I’ll follow them North,
like the brightest stars in the sky,
’til my embrace calms you once more.

© 2016-2023 Nortina Simmons

Originally published February 17, 2016.

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