What Chu Tryin’ ta Say, Doe? by Damara Martin

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pile of letter press letters

You want to know what engenders me to write. I ask my hands: what can possibly engender me not to? Street corners are playgrounds, and the sounds of my twitching fingers are the closest attempts to children skipping on the sidewalks. Souls appear diaphanous only when placed against the purest black of Perrine’s nighttime; picking up a pen is not a means to escape, but a release from fleeing. It may be even powerful enough to keep this bluebird in my chest from uttering a sound.

My writing process began with pages of question marks and exclamation points. Every inquest of urban life led to a significant amount of angry curiosity. I walked in parallel lines on a gyrating angle. I inured to mitigate, stumble to stand, and fight only to end the tension caught between fists. This is arthritis of the self, the overwrought process of losing who I am so I may find the surest way to end my existence. Axioms are played out just as much as Filas and one piece leopard suits. Life is a bowl of letters, and any dictum or apothegm you pull from it will resemble an untouched Scrabble game board. Writing, or living for that matter, is not determined by posits; you freely live, you freely write, and you edit the pieces as you go.

Thirty-three people a day die from a gunshot. The letters I use on the page are the bullets: the paper I write on, a body. Every near-death poem, every dying stanza, awakens a mind. Every buried enjambment palliates a heart. Maybe the next day in the paper we see a life was spared. A week later, a corner store empty after hours. If we can hit drive-bys every day on a full book of poems, maybe then HIV clinics will empty and children will be in bed before the street lights appear.

There I was, an undergrad studying literature and physiology while in the projects reading, playing cards and deteriorating the knuckles in my hands at the block jams. Here I am with the desire to pursue higher education… but chimeras of running down Homestead Avenue with Gucci and Chaz, barefoot on the concrete, because everyone knows that fair-skinned girls run faster than the dark ones. My middle finger right on my tale, because everyone also knew my mami was the baddest bitch alive and won every track-and-field gold medal there was. Wherever I may be in this life time, when hunger strikes, I dig through my fake Coach for that hot sausage and salt and vinegar potato chip bag. This nourishes my body, no matter what my nutrition professor may have said.

Proper and straight, I write technically in Cordis Johnson & Johnson’s engineering department. I proofread manufactured labels, send emails to CEO this, and project manager that. I am thankful, for the breaks in between. I speak to Charles Bukowski. We laugh about how long it takes me to dress for work each morning. I cry on Amiri Baraka’s shoulder, all those stars he counted. I tried counting, too, but nobody sings anymore.

Writing is not an escape but a release from fleeing. Writing is a need as much as it is a means of communication. Have you ever desperately reached for something that was in the palm of your hand?  I am speaking to a race that statistically doesn’t read. I am voicing concerns to a group that supposedly doesn’t listen and embracing a people who will not follow their leaders.

We are misunderstood even by ourselves, yet how bright we are, with dark aesthetics, and no less profound than the deepest statement ever written. Even now, my friends could tell you that back in elementary school I had the fastest clap game in Miami. I soared through Patty Cake and Swing-Swing-Swing to the USA like I was Marion Jones. What they couldn’t tell you: In every game I stored letters in the lines of my hands. What they didn’t know: Those poems were more like prayers, and for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them¹.

I study the art of poetry to create stronger bonds with my community, to bring mirth to the scabs on my eyelids, and to dance at 3 a.m. with Shine and Juicy by the canal to remember absolutely nothing; yet poetry gives us the power to remember everything.  Rice was right, if there is one thing I know about memory it’s this: Everything is ever present.

This bluebird inside my heart doesn’t really sing anymore, but it don’t cry neitha’.

¹ Matthew 18:20

Damara is a limp of a birdsong and rouge. Her language ain’t austere enough, nor canonical as it should be. Ha’ skin be too light, she gots dem monkey lips too. But redbones get betta’ jobs; deys get the modeling position and deys be the house slaves.

Always asking her, “What chu know bout beina’ a black woman, white girl?”

Women like her are lonesome, though. Too light to be black, too black to be white. She only good enough for video-vixen-fantasy-filled-faceless-positions.

So she started sprawling pixels of skin-speech. How it mocks her, all those sludge-hued texts on snow backgrounds.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Hilary Woodward


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