I be from cold yellow snow and hot okra gumbo,
Born of Father from Morningside Avenue, Mother of Charleston.
As beat and breath, I dwell at
145th and Amsterdam, the school on the hill, the hills, hollows, and holiness of Harlem,
Fish Fry Fridays, handholding walking to school.
Five flight walk-up in-labor Mother was carried down.
The transplant across rumbling 3rd Avenue Bridge into Bronx.
Father’s dreams of unshitty sidewalks and good public education.
Momma surrendering career for profession of motherhood,
Homeschooling with vicious tenacity and the instilling hunger of promise. In background, at times,
Sad and somber saxophone droning hurtful memories, chatting audience in living room.
I be from 43 years of hard work and sudden fatal heart attack.
Life of conversation between host and ghosts.
I be from dingy yet diligent dreams,
Graffiti gasping for prospering screens.
I be from contradiction–
Magnet schools and corners with cool cats holstering Colt 45 and Old E.
Judgment always up too close,
Judgment always from afar,
We learn to balance and harmonize such social assault.
Learning what is labeled
Black and/or urban,
Smart and/or dumb,
Facade and/or armor.
I be from the mercy and mercilessness of
Biblical bloodshed and undeterred dreams.
The reading of religion and astronomy, genuflecting on knees alongside Daddy.
Paying homage to museums, planetariums, kitchen table conversation.
Learning evangelism and evil both rim the universe.
I be from friends’ mothers and fathers and neighbors who took us as their own,
Unafraid to check you acting a fool on the bus, then
Relaying your dumb ass behavior to your parents.
Neighbors became Uncle Vincent, Mr. Sandy, Aunt Camille, Ms. Floy, Ms. Audrey, Ms. Johnson.
From their tables and talks I learned how to make curry goat. Keep secrets. Be best friend.
Mr. Cherry whetting through admonishment and book by book
That we young never mislay memory of Old Africa.
(Uncle Perry, thank you
For taking me to the Prince “Lovesexy” concert.
I COULD NOT have gone without you.)
I be from Bronx branches,
Veins and arteries into Manhattan Mom and I
traveled for girl time in South Street Seaport, into Queens for produce and seafood.
Brooklyn was that distant mysterious borough requiring
Multiple-transfer, many-hour train rides. But Great-Aunt Lu was worth the trip.
Barrage of questions,
Reams of stories,
Books to give away,
New husband, one son out of belly, one son in belly, have all since held your hands.
I be from a lineage of peers and friends peppering me, seasoning me, garnering
Elasticity from kinship with classmates that wane and endure.
Appellations that remind of the power in identity.
Resonating with songs of Bible and Africa.
Barbara, Rachel, N’Gai, She-She, Ashaki, Karimah.
Long-lasting kinship fostered by
Late night calls, confessions, righteous teachings, poetic risk taking.
Sarita, Carla, Charisse, Tricia.
First boyfriend and boy friends and crushes and heartbreaks.
Mark, Thomas, Duane, Jeff, Miles, Cory, Derrick, David.
Since then, we be Bronx. WE STILL BRONX.
Reach from forward, and back.
I be from schools with hand holding and feet skipping at annual May festival,
And the hands that grip through social media to still hold on.
I be from teachers believing we could learn.
Ms. Pine, Ms. Jackson, Ms. King, Ms. Krutoy.
Then and now, remind me to not let myself down.
I be from Boro-Wide bands beating classical beats in my bones,
Where marrow muses and musters the courage to jazz.
Long hours languishing at home practicing, painfully publicly for visiting family.
Culminating in proudly performing at Carnegie Hall at age 16,
But abandoning clarinet ever since.
I be from change,
The boondocks and amusement park that now is a shopping metropolis,
Mecca for money.
I be from celebration of Jewish holidays and mass exodus of white people
When people of color moved in.
I be from white friends whom we each consider as kin.
I be from strict curfew, parentally screened boyfriends, guarding eyes and hard holding hands
Crossing streets and strangling danger. And dinner parties held for
The boys who were brothers and sisters sovereign in sisterhood,
Laughing long hours and loving over food from scratch.
I be from long hours studying, too many tests. Overflowing bookshelves
And overflowing new periods no cotton could keep back,
I be from warnings and awkward fondling I wish I learned.
Breakfast with daddy from age of scraped knees to menstruation.
I be from
The sunrise fusion of magenta and gold
Obstructed by bustling Amtrak and humming highways.
Night of cornflower blue and whispered traffic.
Terrace that made it safe to stand in the sky.
The dirty yet sonorous eyes of Long Island Sound that saunters watery hips,
Beckons us to come to Orchard Beach
And breathe in the sun.
Pelham Park littered with pink ribbons, Schafer beer cans, families loving in tight spaces.
I be from Prince, the beautiful ones, cinematic introduction to “that joy.”
I be from China Syndrome and Kung Fu movie marathons.
I be from community centers, membership National Council of Negro Women, Girl Scouts.
I be candy-striping in Hebrew Hospital, holding hands of the chronic sick and passer-ons.
I be from Church of New Vision.
Pastor Palmore’s wise hands
Have hovered over parents’ funeral, marriage, and dedication of two sons.
I be from sheltered childhood, naiveté, and hard loving
That now, as mother, as wife, as parent,
I would never wish away.
I be from narratives simmering in pots teetering on precious perimeters.