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My God on the 9th street of Colored Town
This skin say nana swallowed the praise on 12th street
before the bulldozer hit.
On my arm is a freeway of distraction from the colored town
draped over this body. In order to pray right
Nana told me you must place two fingers
at the wrist and stomp your feet to conjure some kind
of beat. Some kind of voodoo she must'a learned in the conch
house. Somewhere beneath the interstates of veins
is a city unperturbed. I know this because
when I was young, the sun shone caramel
colored polaroid's 'cross my skin. I'd shake it to see if I was
seeing some true resurrection of a body, a city.
This body is an heirloom from my God who'd stay in Overtown
when he visited. A God who picked his women
from the trumpet tree. Somewhere in the Harlem of the South
is the woman who's voice was velvet,
who'd cook so good there were saxophones in it. My God,
the one who smelled the goombay on me and breathed,
tenor notes for cussing into my lungs. My God
who asked me to hold onto this city that Babeled too
close to heaven.
Beneath a Child of Sun,
women gather, squat on banyans
& sing praise songs to Moses.
They think of babies in baskets,
a choir of plats lay across their backs
like caskets. Each braid, crow-black
and still. Pockets of flesh gather
sweat as etymology, a data set
between breasts. Bits of ocean.
Each woman has hair that'll shame
the roots of any tree. The sun sets
into their skin like a child, and night
creeps in through the shadows
of the trees. The women rest like crows
at the edges of roads narrow
as wires. They circle seven lampposts
before reaching Old Cutler, the only
street with a bus bench. Route 34 stops
in Liberty City, Little Havana &
Little Haiti; the bus lowers for each
murder. Before the sun rose
the women speak of Catholic schools
and hum. A contralto ricochets a B-flat against
teeth and tonsils, like the rapt of knuckles
to doors—The canal up the street drowns
a black boy, fills his mouth with rice,
offers his body to the gators—
She stirs a moment, hand to breast.
Some of the women knit, sew crotchet
braids into cornrows, humming tunes
too black for day-work. Too black to be
holy. They wrap their hands in banana
leaves, and pray over one another's linen-
split callouses. At some point each woman
combs fingers through hair rough as wind,
nicknaming the naps Jordan, Till, Nile, Martin…