Black Girl’s Ditty


I don’t know how many times
I’ve sat on somebody’s back porch
and heard a black mama sing,
“She grown.  She grown.  She so grown.
She been grown.  She done walked out
the delivery room grown.

She done brought up a house full
of children grown.”
But I’ve never heard a black mama
say to anybody, “She had songs.”

Never heard a black mama say
that some black girl could sing
like Roberta Flack or Melba Moore
or Valerie Simpson or Stephanie Mills.
Songbirds eclipsed by Diana Ross,
Aretha Franklin, and Whitney.

When I sleep I am drunk, and I weave
back and forth on a dream porch.
I stoop to check for mail
that’s been stashed there by squirrels.

Squirrels like to stash my dream mail
like acorns, and when I awaken
from my drunk sleep, I frighten men.

I catch a river and sing these words
like Lena would. I catch a river
and spread it across the universe
and wrap it in a box that holds
a dozen roses. I catch a river

and let it catch that black girl
who got grown long before Aretha
sang “Respect,” long before
The Supremes swirled in chiffon
on The Ed Sullivan Show, long before

Hattie McDaniel delivered her Oscar
acceptance speech, long before
Marian Anderson draped herself
in her mink, her contralto splitting
the atoms of clouds.  That black girl,

a slave girl, stacked hardwood on the hearth floor
of a South Boston, Virginia, plantation,
built a double-cooking fire,
roasted a suckling pig on a spit,

placed it on a ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­blue and white porcelain platter
before she handed it off to a house slave,
sweat winding down the sides
of this slave-girl cook’s head.

This slave girl who smelled of hickory
and cinnamon. This black girl,
skin darkened by fire. This black girl,
with skin tough as rawhide.

This black girl dwells in the woodland of me.