nosleepcover2.jpgMother, have I told you
That you are the first woman
I ever fell in love with, that what
I’ve always wanted in life is to hear
You say you love me, too?
That is why, ma, it has taken
Me so long to write this poem.

For how could I, a
Grown man, put words to paper
If I am that little boy
Cowering beneath the power of
That slap, the swing of that belt,
Or the slash and burn of that switch
You used to beat me into fear and submission?

I constantly cringe, ma,
When I think of that oft-repeated chorus you sung
As a fusillade of blows walloped my skeleton body:

Are you gonna be good? Are you gonna be good?
Sometimes when I call you these days, mother,
I just don’t know what to say, thus I fall silent,
Even when you ask “How are you doing?”

I want to give you real talk,
Tell you that I am still that stunted only child
Traumatized by the violence of your voice;
That I am still that shorty too terrified to fall
Asleep for fear of your pouncing on me

The moment I shut my eyes—
And you did, mother, again and again,
Until I could no longer sleep peacefully
As a child, and I have never actually had
Many tranquil nights of sleep since.

I lay awake sometimes, as an adult,
Thinking someone is going to get me,
Going to strike me, going to kill me
Because of those heart-racing hours
Of darkness far far ago.

And I remember that time I ran under
Our bed, and in your titanic rage
You tore the entire bed apart,
The frame falling on one of my legs,
And there I was, stuck, mother,
And you ripped into me anyhow.

And oh how I howled for mercy.
But there was none, mother.
Yet there was that chorus:
Are you gonna be good? Are you gonna be good?
And I really did not know, mother, what being good meant.
Nor what you wanted me to be.

Because one day I thought you loved me
And the next day I thought you hated me.
And I did not know back in the day, ma,
That you had been assaulted and abused
The same way, by my granddaddy,
Your father, a 19th century son of ex-slaves
who would break you and your
Three sisters and brother down with mule whips,
With soda bottles, with his gnarled hands—

That he was an embittered mister,
That you were the child who became
Most like your father. Do you not
Recall that past, mother?

(Continue Reading…)

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