Halves of me strung up in trees like Christmas lights
hung by the neck I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
Kerosene rains and ignites fire beneath my feet.
Every day the world stomps its rubber soled boot into my womb.
Mary Turner turns in her grave and screams.
I had a dream that someone purchased my life for five cents at a pharmacy,
my heart a beating sun in a mason jar,
and he dropped it in the street on purpose, watched it roll into the gutter,
my blood curdled milk.
Blackness: a Star of David on little boy’s skin.
Blackness: a whole body tattoo of numbers.
All the little black boys play ring around the rosy as they shuffle through posy petals floating
from their friends memorials. Pew pew the pews are filled to capacity with black women and the souls of their children both
born and un shaking with the Holy Ghost or shaking with the holy screams of save our sons.
The lead chambers bustle with life.
This is the black holocausts that began on an ocean.
Black bodies piled up in prisons.
Black bodies piled in projects like rats.
Black bodies piled on street corners like crumpled coal.
Black bodies wading through the waters of your consciousness.
Black bodies trying to figure out how we too can sing America.
One eighth of your conscious tells you I’m beautiful
that’s why lust turns in your eyes like bilge water.
You rock me to the soul of my Creole
on a dance floor trampled by feet in different kinds of shackles,
haggle for a turn to turn a waltz with me.
How much did you pay to quadroon?
Do you like participating in the cake walk you used to
admire from seats shaded by oak trees
somehow heavy with fruit and reaching up to juggle the sun?
I still boom ba shay in Congo Square where we dare to make gumbo filé ya ya
my ma can’t know I go.
But then, I wipe the dust from my feet, and press my hair
fare, fare, tope colored girl
in order to be here with you.
How many dead black bodies bang around
in the back of your mind like wind chimes?
Are they loud?
Do they sing the songs of women screaming at their slithering roots?
The issue with the whip is that you hit yourself on the backswing;
I feel how your consequences keloid under your shirt.
How just five soft fingers on a bending waist can cage me here.
My mama made sure that I could pass
but I’ll never pass as well as her
and that’s ok.
I never believed
paper bag skin would open up doors.
I never cared. Say Red!
My name’s not Red.
I left the south for the west
and browned like a sugar sprinkled pecan. There’s nothing wrong with brown
The yellow leasing office boy says,
I was talking about the carpet in the model unit,
shaggy, 70’s, hideous,
I think he was talking about me. No, you’re right. I just don’t like it on the floor.
I rub my skin and it’s like touching mousse.
I ask Africa to take me back
and she tells me I’m too far gone
but I can always visit.
Musing from the Condohood:
Little white boys play with toys
that little black boys…can’t.
Plastic rifles waving along the skyline
as congregated packs crowd the night.
They are safe in the condohood
where white houses and white skin blend,
become smooth and palatable.
Where any little black dot sticks out—
a stain on America’s work shirt.
Black mamas stand on porches
like lifeguards presiding over the sea.
Their fanny packs full of declarations
why the police should spare their child
one more time.
The streetlights— a flickering countdown
to when all the little black boys
need to make their way inside,
to when all the little white boys
parade through the streets
wearing safety like a second skin.
Kayla Rodney, a New Orleans native, has been studying and writing poetry for the last fifteen years. She’s a graduate of Lusher Charter High School, Xavier University of Louisiana, San Diego State University, and recently received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida. After being displaced due to Katrina, and then later migrating to different cities for her education, she felt a pull to write about home and the tremendous power of community, landscape, family, and water. Her first book is Swimming Home (Unlikely Books, 2020).