Tonight, I went to the The City Slam and Experimental Mic at Mama Calizo's Voice Factory in San Francisco, and I am so happy I went for so many reasons--the room was filled with beautiful people, my love read a poem I adore, and there were great features, including Sonya-Renee Taylor, whom I've only seen and met once before. The final poem in her set tonight was one that she posted a draft of on Facebook at the very end of November.
A Poem For The Girl Who Solicited Money To Fly To the National Poetry Slam Because "I am only 20 and a white girl and I...."
A man with fecal matter in his tight fist-ed naps
speaks in Pentecostal tongues and expletives.
Proclaims through the acrid stench of 3 day human sweat,
the kind one can only acquire on a cross country greyhound ride,
that he is going to hold this bus hostage.
Stands in front of the door like a Buckingham palace guard and states
in the only coherent syntax he has offered in the last 40 minutes,”
Ain't A MUTHAFUCKA GETTIN OF THIS GOD DAMNED BUS!”
The first thing I thought was, “Thank God I am not a white girl.
This would be soooooo scary for her!”
Let me say love, I am sure you didn't mean it.
You know, “that way”
The way that reminds us crackly
black breeder girls
that we ain't ever really known danger nor discomfort.
Perhaps we know it just well enough.
The way you know the taste of a rapist spit in your mouth
so translucently familiar that
it doesn't really make you heave anymore when you swallow.
Certain it was an of 18th century slip of tongue .
Cellular memory that made you believe somehow your
precious pallid safety is of such global concern
that our wallets might gladly lay themselves prostrate
at the foot of your pretty toes
than sooner see them sludge through the swamp
of junkies, jailbirds and shitty ass diapers, right?
Greyhound is for... poor people,
brown people... lesser people.
Not prized little white girls.
After all, America's flag is woven with the fabric of your
frilly pearly panties and we will not have them soiled
so of course you should not ride the greyhound
beside my grandmother, an E.R nurse for 25 years
on her way to visit her first born grandson.
She might tell you has broken matchstick legs but
she's been praying God will make them straight as his word.
She might tell you her son just joined the Navy.
That the thought of war makes her stomach knot
like the rubber bands her brother ties around his arms
since he got back from that Vietnam.”
She might just offer you some chicken she fried up for the trip
and we wouldn't want to unsettle your delicate alabaster belly .
God forbid you have to hear about Liza.
About her 6 month sentence
for writing that 100 dollar bad check for groceries.
She might tell you that she can't find her youngest
since foster care took him.
Juan might show you a picture of his daughter. He is saving for her
Quinceanera, you know.
A migrant worker might tell you he travels on Mondays
but manages to make that 22 hour bus ride home
in time for Saturday huevos rancheros with his wife and three children.
Oh sweet baby jesus, someone might ask you to listen
to something other than a poem;
No sweet young white woman should have to endure that.
Your safety is an American Institution.
A castle built on the backs of greyhound riding brown and black
folks who carry the bricks back and forth across U.S interstates
so you never have to break a sweat, a nail.
Never have to worry if looking like every other black male
will mistakenly land you in prison. If forgetting your papers will land you
in an illegal alien detention center. If today you will be a maid or a whore
or a poor welfare mother cause those are the only people
who should ever ride the bus.
So yes love,
There are a million open wallets waiting
to usher you away from the blight of poverty.
Away from what those not pale or privileged enough for
pricey plane tickets or public pandering
already know and trust.
You, my dear, will get wherever it is you need to go
in comfort and in safety, because you have always
been more than willing to leave the danger and the driving
After her set, after another feature, after a break, and into the remainder of the first round of the slam, a woman named Imani came up and began reading. It was a great poem, but 15 seconds into it, there was some sort of... kerfuffle happening on the other side of the room, people talking loudly enough that it distracted from the woman who was performing mic-less on stage. Finally, two white women--whom I'd seen outside earlier with a third friend, a black woman, who was leaving--walked out, one of them proclaiming that "she played the race card" as they left.
As it turned out, it wasn't so much Imani's poem, an ode to black men, that had done them in, but Sonya-Renee's. Imani's poem was, I guess, their final straw.
On the way home with J, I said, hundreds of years of slavery and oppression has yet to be my last straw. White people need to shut the fuck up and just be uncomfortable sometimes.