She strolls into my dorm room in a Darkwing Duck t-shirt
and a lip-ring punctuated smile—a vision so disarming,
my high school boyfriend becomes a forgotten page in a yearbook.
I vow to switch majors, declare my undeclared studies
in her name. Pen a daily thesis to each aloof piercing.
A freshman with a car, white sneaker speakers
bursting Addiction by Kanye West. I memorized
every move her hands made on the steering
wheel of her Saturn. A whole planet could be born from her touch.
I never tried on the confidence of men
or spent geology lab mining the smell of a woman
from my skin like jewels—
a black woman, who wore boyfriend
clothes better than boyfriends. She did
everything better than boys, even misogyny.
An expert in mocking girls. I’ll never forget the surprise
mirrored on our faces that one time her hands
lunged for my neck. Her candied palms
couldn’t bruise toxic. Masculine fit
like a letterman jacket. I studied misogyny too, of course.
In locker rooms, then cubicles, between endless
sheets. Accustomed to exchanging pretty
as currency, but never followed around a store.
Making wishes on her eyelashes didn’t absolve
the whiteness I learned on the Baptist church playground
in grass-fed Virginia, how public school colonized
history with laundered rhymes about Christopher Columbus,
but no one mentioned we played football with a school
from a sundown town. Didn’t slide the words back
behind my buck teeth when I professed tractor pulls
and Friday night jamborees a post-race America.
But the sun had set, and none of my classmates thought
to protest, every face as pale and self-assured as an empty
white board. She and I, we had different history
lessons. Different teachers; different choices.
The blisters I won from kneading each of her curls
into a glistening loc made my ignorance cut worse.
Asking to touch her sister’s braids.
The cop who insisted on misgendering her.
Her dad when he said she was always going to end
up with someone white. It took me 3,652 days
to grasp how much she endured
to love me back. To recognize the truth of a mob of white
teachers proclaiming their black students disruptive.
I can’t change this story, but if I could, I’d ask
before I bring her to my one-stoplight hometown
if her breath feels safe. I’d warn her about the snap
of the Confederate flag on the backs of pick-up trucks,
and cold-shoulder grandfathers who will ignore her
and say Happy Birthday with a card of Sarah Palin
brandishing a shotgun. I’d warn her, and maybe we’d stay
home. Swoon over dessert from the produce aisle
at Wegman’s: peaches ripe with understanding,
tender juices running rich mangoes.
In the safety of her bunk bed, we’d watch a show about a 12-year-old boy
who brings balance to a land that warred for 100 years.
I won’t pretend pineapple plates will heal a century of war,
but I’d scoop honey and brie off her smooth stems,
dip my passion fruit pen into the koi fish on her wrist,
and ink a new thesis as she knights
our bubblegum pink strap-on Mr. Rodgers.
Bio – My (Amara Tiebout) small town childhood required an immense amount of reckoning and unlearning about race, privilege, feminism, ableism, and the heart throb intersection of all these identities. I’m a writer and editor hailing from Washington DC. I edit medical research during the day and scribble poetry and fantasy novels in my spare time. I believe with my whole 160 lbs in social justice reform, sex positivity, healthcare and reproductive rights for all genders and bodies, and a good latte.