“I want to be a poet. But not one of those “black poets,” I jotted down on a piece of paper. This idea of not wanting to be a “black poet,” became the mold of my writing.
I wrote loads of lines worshipping Daisy’s eyes, and Gatsby’s smile. Because my grandmother’s vibrant facial gestures that she spent on me, were pennies with holes in them.
I wrote notes about a young boy who got punished for not caring for the corn crops on his daddy’s farm. I didn’t think that no one wanted to hear about grandma spanking my bare black ass until it turned plum, the same shade of the wine she used to drank—for not snatching the chicken out of the freezer to unthaw, two hours ago. So now our tummies growled like CRF-450’s for an extra one-hundred-and-twenty-minutes.
I formulated a fiction tale about a young white girl who was torn between going to Princeton, becoming a 4th generation graduate, or attending Harvard, shattering her parent’s legacy, and their hearts. Who cared about me getting accepted in 2 out of the 10 colleges? I almost didn’t enroll because Grandma was hesitant about signing that parent plus student loan. “I’m in enough damn debt already,” she said, while crushing the pen, pondering, what’s more important. Her debt or my future? I look back and realize, I knew that my grandmother was in debt, around the same time I learned to spell her name.
I read that the most beautiful places in the world were countrysides hundreds of miles away. “Baltimore is trash,” I’d say to myself regularly.
The Fairmount Falls in Louisville Kentucky is what filled my notepad. The water that ran through cluttered gutters during the rainfall, in front of my home, is where I had the most fun though. Watching bugs, dead birds, and empty Dorrito bags slide down the infested waters like kids at Six Flag’s waterpark. I use to dream that I could shrink myself and surf on those Dorrito bags into the nearest sewer; I always wanted to be a Ninja Turtle.
My first piece of jewelry as a child was bought at a pawn shop on the corner of Monument st. and Collington ave., and not at Kays Jewelers, therefore, it wasn’t meaningful. Oh, I could only imagine how many stories that lived on the mounting of that gold ring. How many faces it slapped. Or how many phat asses it grabbed. Or how many times it was handed over after a swift pistol whip. Or how many specs of blood spanked the diamonds during fistfights. Or how many cigarettes, Steele Reserved’s, and blunts it clutched. Or how many times the ring was swamped in baking soda, flower, or salt-peppa-ketchup. However, those untold mysteries weren’t going in my sonnets.
It’s impossible to count the amount of times my father said, “Light skinned B****** are the Baddest.” Out of the several times I saw my father shoot his shot at women, he holla’d at a Hershey chocolate chick twice, or maybe three times. “You’re pretty, to be dark skinned,” is what he said during each encounter.
“I want my hair straight like them white girls,” Grandma said religiously. I’ve see Grandma get more perms than she took baths. I’ve seen Grandma grapple, and stare into Vogue magazines, gawking, and drooling over the whiteness that she lacked. While she used Jet magazines for ashtrays, cup-coasters, or paper towels; where she’d spit her sunflowers seeds into. An unspoken rhythm that sung songs about what she thought of herself.
My notepad was filed with: Fire sunsets that I’ve never inspected. “Beautiful” blue eyes that I’ve never gazed in into. The texture of Blonde hair that never kissed my fingertips. Prairies that I’ve never skipped across. Farm animals, country roads, and cornfields that I’ve never smelt. Old classic country western songs that I didn’t understand; songs that didn’t understand me. I praised Robert Frost, Mary Shelly, and Shakespeare. As if Tupac, Jay z, and Nas weren’t Gods in the Black community. Like the lines that they scribbled didn’t move moons. Like the verses that they rapped didn’t make you play a song back to back, digesting the mechanics of the intricacy that comprises what we call, bars. I was acting like their records weren’t revolution wrapped in plastic. Like their rhymes didn’t aid magic. Like their rhymes didn’t break ankles, or do no look passes, or toss alley oops, or dunk backwards.
I was acting like, our stories weren’t infinite shades of gold.
The row homes in my neighborhood are art. They are tall enough to cut the sun ray’s, creating shade for those hot summer days; but short enough for us to launch rocks on top of. My cousin and I would watch “grown up” movies with my father, I wanted to be Mitch from Paid in Full. He wanted to be Biggs, from Shottas.
I use to climb naked trees just to hang at the top, enjoying the sacred breeze. I use to run through the alleyways, splitting my feet open, painting the concrete red. Me, stitches, and hospital visits were like peanut butter, jelly, and bread; by themselves, they don’t look too much like themselves.
I didn’t understand the beauty of understanding mathematics before I learned good manners and good grammar.
Heroin + nostrils= deep nods.
Money+jewelry+new car= dope boy – gun = insanity
I didn’t realize the beauty that resided in my own landscape. I didn’t realize the beauty that dwelled in my own face. I thought we were ugly.
I couldn’t taste the beauty in my own struggle. I couldn’t taste the air in my own bubble. I suffocated myself. Now I look in the mirror and say “Congratulations, you played yourself,” in my best Dj Khaled impression.
* * *
Beauty? The social construct that kills humans who lack thereof. And in the same breath, the same social construct that can see the artistry in the caterpillar, before it transforms into a butterfly, if it even lives that long.
I spent time writing about what the world wanted me to write about. All of the nice white things. Which was everything else besides my reality. So I wrote about them. And not about you. It just didn’t seem cool.
I was blind. I was a slave. I didn’t wanna be one of those “ black poets.”
Subconsciously I wanted to be a white poet. So that means I wanted to be….
I’m glad that I removed that barrier that was blocking my artistic abilities, and realized that it is criminal for me to talk about fairytales, when my people are starving. It’s criminal for me to write about Harvard, when we have to get hair cuts six-times-a -year because barbering can’t squeeze into the budget. It’s criminal for me to use my voice, and buzz about white noise, when my family’s pandemonium has enough artistry and craftsmanship to shut down the Smithsonian.
Boy, was I trippin.
Nothing was wrong with the nice white content I used to write about. The only thing that was unfitting, was my reason behind it. It was because I associated “being a great poet,” with the word “white.” I didn’t want to be a “black poet.” I didn’t want to be me. I was writing out of fear. I was born into a world where conforming to society standards was the first step in becoming successful, achieving the American dream. I didn’t know how to be, free.
It took me some time to realize that I came from a line of some the greatest poets that ever scraped their skin on American concrete. I remember Langston Hughes said, “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he must choose…We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”
I am unencumbered by society’s historical shackles. I am beauty. I am ugly. I am a Black Poet. I am free.
By Kondwani Fidel