(a satirical elegy for Wanda Coleman)
usta be young usta be gifted — still black
Didn’t she recognize the ostinato of Wanda’s bony loneliness?
Didn’t she realize when Wanda scarred the schoolyard, her hair’s first draft made black
Didn’t she realize black boys yawped at Wanda’s tint—soot beneath a chimney
Didn’t she know Wanda’s teeth—bucked, impacted like an A-frame’s shingles—
made black teachers snicker?
Didn’t she notice white teachers’ nostrils gagged as if they were sniffing ash
when they abutted with Wanda’s flesh science: Ashcan school eye’s the color
of cantaloupe meat hodgepodged with her sable rind
Didn’t she see Wanda’s breathing—the sting and stain of it?
Wanda’s lonely, dorky, Mad Dog Black Lady twelve-year-old selves
wandering the shelves in search of a printed friend?
Not this librarian-even though her bifocals plumped her grey eyes
so much Wanda thought she was being surveilled by full moons—with mascara
But there was nothing interstellar about their interaction
There was nothing inter ‘bout their interaction
Like a drone with glaucoma, the librarian’s grey Phoebes
shadowed Wanda through the stacks
She must not have heard: “Good poets rob, great poets steal”—ideas, lady, ideas
Yet the librarian sensed Wanda was headed for greatness; but now Wanda was in
the borrowing biz, wanted to give the librarian the fandango of a doubt
Maybe she thought Wanda was a good book, should be checked out
The way we read people in Watts
A 30-second assessment, some sister-girl, teeth-sucking maditude
The whether you should be purred at or punched out
The should you be deleted from the dookie decimal system
Nah! This librarian wasn’t a bigot. She was a little “it.” A midget-minded impersonal
pronoun with goiters, moonlighting as the ISBN overseer, canvassing Wanda’s titles,
checking out the type of noggin cotton Wanda was pickin’: Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick
She gathered Wanda wasn’t a literary grifter—tried to soft-shoe some small talk
Nicknamed Wanda: Winnie the Pooh
Wanda didn’t know it yet. But those shelves and shelves of alphanumeric slights
were driving her toward Winnie the Mandela:
Amandla! Away Pooh! Amandla! Away Pooh! (and Tigger, too)
II The Ghost of Wanda Past
(in Coleman’s Voice)
I ran rhyming and screaming from the American consortium of retired people. Don’t cry.
I ain’t dead. Just landed a new gig. I’m line editing a bestseller called “Eternity.”
Now, since English is a language rich in insults—making my syllables millyoungnaires--
let me try to terrify you in a polite way:
Imagine waking up one morning, realizing America ain’t nothin’ but a gadget
wonderland, and you find yourself surrounded by thirteen unemployed vowels.
That’s when you need to tell your itch to bitch and your how to howl.
Ever had a poem lunge from a chapbook and gouge a publisher’s eyes out?
My first husband’s eyes were blue and gooey as Ultra-sheen. Should have milked one
of dem purty, pomade peepers, used it to grease my unconquerable, unconkable ‘do.
Pardon my fatback, Wiener schnitzel hallucinations, but my tongue is a stuffed animal;
my left nipple has a French accent, and my microwave is dysfunctionally illiterate.
My new tome, which I hardly recommend, comes out in 2015. 3
Could I get some Mercurochrome on that, to go? Hold the Bukowski.
Of course, I regret the fact that you will no longer be able to download my award-
winning mouth music, my unsweetened, condensed intellectual milk, my blathering
stilettos. But leave my high-strung, double-spaced jaw-jumping out of it!
Don’t waste your life imbibing squeaky chaos, baby. Don’t let your afro morph
into a hollow tree house where your imagination shrivels and farts.
I might be duller than dishwater’s third cousin, but I’m still sharper
than a hard left. Trust me on this: cogito the hell out of this sum. Cause three days
ago, I e-mailed the afterlife—and it bounced back. Once, before a standing-ear
ovation, one of my tropes bowed umpteen times but had to be whisked from Oracle
Arena--barely escaping between two sheets of paper--rather than be trampled
by a standing-room-only ear-raid encore.
Bet’ not say that’s because “my poems are a riot.” Cause I start thinking “Watts Riot;”
then my PTSD (Poet Traumatic Stress Disorder) starts kicking in and kicking ass.
‘Sides who told you I write poems? Those are my mind’s published tantrums.
Ever had a metaphor climb into one of your nose vaults and homestead?
Find yourself sashaying on Wiltshire Blvd. your mouth screaming at the leaking
roof of your mouth: “hey you, get out of there!” Think of me
as a pigment of your imagination then let me give you a taste
of my metaphysical, inner-city licorice. No!? This is my post-bellum, high-stakes
cerebellum and you’re only skinny-dipping in it, crumb butt—pissing nickels
and moonlight without a permit. Ssssheeet!
I know my punctuation’s swanky. But occasionally my sentences get scuffed. Tattered
a few adjectives in my day; had some modifiers wind up dangling and hamstrung.
Early in my scribble apprenticeship, my similes were disheveled meet
& greets, bowlegged, cerebral cameos with an acute Bonaparte complex.
Always be on the lookout for the literary stickup where ideas press cocked,
unpublished barrels against your temple--and poems mug you. Then, after the mind heist,
you find yourself twitching, hawkeyed, combing the universe for loose leaves.
I knew I was on the right poetic track when my skull gave my imagination
a summons for trespassing on private property.
Some folks like to get high--I like to get hyphenated.
Tally small & smally Tall, if you seethe something say something,
cause I was double-crossed. Helios set me up on a double-blind date
with cheek-to-cheek red tape and despotic cheese.
Sorry, crown-prince Schnookums, ain’t no cure for this strain of African Sleeping
Sickness. What’s your problem, crumb butt? I was edited in America where there’s no
such thing as patience. Toodaloo! (and Tigger and Eeyor, too)
Click here for the PDF.
David Mills is the author of two books of poetry the Dream Detective and The Sudden Country a 2012 finalist for the Main Street Rag prize. His work has appeared in Ploughshares. Fence, Jubilat, Callaloo, and African-American Review to name a few. He has also recorded his poetry on RCA records and had a play commissioned and produced by Juilliard.