i am harriet tubman’s shot gun,
the knife under sally heming’s pillow,
i am phillis wheatley breaking the law to read,
to write poems.
i was property,
i jumped the broom
and it meant nothing,
i am the slave women experimented on without anesthesia
for the sake of gynecology,
i am the dichotomy between
a field and a house slave,
i am the 3 pints of unsifted
cornmeal and a cup of sour milk a day
i spent all day cooking, but im still starving.
the weight of mistress’s eyes lay heavy on my hands.
i am beaten for burnt bread,
beaten for sneaking a biscuit into my pocket,
beaten for looking too white.
i sleep in the big house to wait on mistress day and night,
i sleep in the big house.
but at night, when she goes to sleep,
i want to die.
i can nail my door shut each night,
but every time he’ll splash in still,
like champagne popped at the engagement party
of racism and sexual brutality,
i watch as the wallpaper peels off the walls in shame,
as the curtains draw themselves,
as everything in this big house pretends
my screams are silent,
until my no is a sob.
but no is a right that i do not have.
so my no becomes my silence.
i am silence.
with an unwanted mixed baby
when mistress orders the skin
peeled from my back for the crime of surviving.
i am tituba, the 17th century slave woman
accused of witchcraft,
beaten until she confessed,
i am her confession that sparked the salem witch trials…
or black girl magic if you will,
i am marie laveau, voodoo queen of new orleans,
secrets stirring while the gumbo simmers.
i am sojourner truth, and aint I a woman?
i am madam CJ Walker’s hotcomb smoking,
calling out 19th century gender roles and double standards,
turning the beauty shop into a place for the revolution.
i am shirley chisolm’s hammer cracking
the ceiling that feels more like concrete
than glass for womyn of color.
i am ruby bridge’s lunchbox,
the refusal on claudette colvin’s tongue at fifteen
as she refused to give up her seat, before rosa.
i am the swell of her belly at sixteen
as she wasn’t respectable enough
to mobilize behind anymore,
but i am still the no, bitter and fierce,
resting on rosa’s tired tongue.
i am the fight against the civil rights movement’s
rape culture in 1965,
i am dorothy heights, complicating the revolution
with all my intersections, told to pick one label or none at all.
i am dorothy counts, spit on and thrown garbage at
for integrating a high school.
met with a riot, armed with a notebook.
i am daisy bates and the little rock nine,
the steel in mamie mobley till’s spine,
open casket grief transfigured to activism.
i am bessie coleman’s flight,
corretta scott’s fight
nina simone’s microphone,
josephine baker’s banana miniskirt,
the afro pick in angela davis’ clenched black power fist.
i am audrey lorde’s secret poetry,
alice walker coloring everything purple,
i am ella baker sitting in,
diane nash riding for freedom.
i am fannie lou hamer’s backbone,
sick and tired of being sick and tired.
i am a brick in the palm of marsha p johnson,
i am gabby douglas’ first gold,
mae jemison’s space helmet,
misty copeland’s firebird.
i am simone biles as the reigning queen of gymnastics
i am dorothy dandridge’s academy award winning smile.
i am dorothy, dipping her toe into the hotel pool
only to watch staff drain every last drop out of that pool,
only now i am simone manuels, swimming my way into history.
i am the caged bird still singing for maya angelou,
and this is who i come from.