Youth takes the higher registry
In cackles, screams, and laughter
Meant to call down parents
And assert strong needs and wants
Because there is no other thing
Than the immediate, the now.
There is no more authentic representation of grief
Than a child who does not realize
Tomorrow is tangible.
In youth I seem to recall
Being able to sing well,
Well enough that even adults would listen.
I like to think it stemmed from my ability
To howl with indignation as a toddler,
Though never with the kind of sheer mad fury as my sister,
Who slipped and ran headlong into a corner,
And became possessed by the furies
At the level of her discomfort.
I can still see her raging eyes,
The little bleeding bruise in her forehead.
In time, the high-pitched sounds fade
As feet become steadier
And minds more sure of themselves.
I would not want to go back to the mad sounds of childhood.
I would, however, happily take back my
Ability to howl out my feelings.
Every Sunday there is a man screaming at the sea.
At dawn, I hear him yelling,
Voice straining violently
As the low tide waves do nothing
To drown him out and let me sleep.
I want to warn him that this weekly ritual is probably bad
For those fragile little threads in his throat.
I can hear them break over the surf,
Especially when he reaches the top of his register.
It sounds like losing one’s balance.
At first I thought he was drunk.
After the third time I thought it was rage,
Then grief after the fourth,
And then back to alcohol-induced.
I went to yell to the man,
But saw he had headphones in and could not hear me.
“Madam, il le fait pour chanter mieux,”
The guard says at my shoulder.
He grabs his throat in his fingertips
And makes a gesture that suggests strengthening.
I nod as though I understand this logic.
“C’est le sel – c’est bon pour la voix.”
If I wanted to sound like beef jerky
I too would scream at the ocean.
The salt would cure my throat so that it never got tired.
In front of us, just out of earshot
The man keeps sing-screaming to the endless ocean
Off-rhythm and Off-key
Hoping to have a voice as tough as the surf.
“Today is a different look for you.”
I anticipate the compliment.
It’s the most flamboyant blue I own.
The bravest thing I can wear
In this world of black slacks and neutral forms
Is a skirt the color of lapis
Printed with symmetrical golden crescents.
When I bought the bolt I was warned it would be risky.
It’s a difficult print to work with.
The little tailor mimicked the a-line photo,
Then added big pockets on the sides.
It’s out of my comfort zone.
“Normally I can pick you out, but today
you look like everyone else.”
I mentally stutter before responding.
I look like everyone else…
I’m dressed like a color block in a children’s picture book!
Then I remember where I am.
It takes Africa to make cerulean mundane.
My American muted purples are luxurious here,
Here, women wear rainbows.
To stand out is to blend in.
“But it’s nice that you’re trying something new.”
4.9 Keeps Dancing
I hope that little boy keeps dancing.
I hope the music does not leave his arms,
Even after they’ve grown long and wiry with hard work.
I hope that no one scolds him for dancing,
Tells him that men don’t spin.
I hope that little boy looks up again and again
And starts to beat his feet against the ground,
Throw his head down and his chest up in jubilation
Just for a moment now and then
Just enough to find pleasure.
I hope that little boy grows to be a man
Who dances in the streets every now and then.
Clanky-winged creature stretching out in the sun
Wash your feathers of the bits of blood and mess
Dry season in the red dirt has left you undone
The rain-making device is a godlike gift
Stuck hopping through water, old straggle-feather breasts
While the white-winged egrets stalk and drift
Snatching bugs from the dry husks of grass
You use your red hook beak and strip your chest
Of bone, of vein, of rotted carcass.