All he wanted to do was surprise you; he had this idea of coming home early and cooking you a nice dinner—although, realistically, he knew he would end up ordering out—spending an evening together before ending the day the best way you knew how.
Of course, things rarely ever worked out for Rafael Barba.
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.