On Jimmy's Front Porch
his momma does my hair,
in plaits not braids, and whistles
out complaints through the comb
held like a pirate’s knife in her teeth,
each time my hair limps and simpers
its way free of her hands.
She breathes words heavier than air,
dusty words, like Georgia clay before rain,
which she, in fact, eats from a bucket
beside the chair, an old metal kitchen thing
dragged out each morning and in each night.
She says lord or honey or girl before everything.
“Lord Jimmy, get your black butt here where I can see,”
or “Lord honey, it’s damn cold,” and “Honey girl, sit still.”
“Honey babe, how’s your momma?”
I bet if I talked, my words would look like taffy
left too long in the sun, so soft and angry
they’d get stuck in your teeth.
My mother’s words are sunshine and glass,
see-through words that look different
from the corner of your eye and grow
warmer the longer you sit under them.
They are kind as questions,
smart as beetles’ antennae.
I’ve got no one to talk to anyway, is what I think
when Jimmy teaches me to run like they do in Kenya.
In Kenya, he shows me, you put your hands like this.
Flat as steel knives, they slice up space,
then he just steps on through—gone,
clean and fast as a curtain falling over the sun.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro