The 19th Amendment & My Mama

I always took it for granted, the right to vote
She said
And I knew what my mother meant
Her voice constricted tightly by the flu A virus
& a 30-year-relationship 
with Newport 100s
I ain’t no chain smoker
she attempts to silence my concern
only a pack a week. That’s good, you know?

My mother survived a husband she didn’t want 
and an addiction that loved her more 
than any human needs

I sit to write a poem about the 100 year Anniversary
of the 19th Amendment 
& my first thought returns to the womb
& those abortions I did not want at first
but alas

The thirst of an almost anything 
is a gorge always looking to be
until the body is filled with more fibroids 
than possibilities

On the 19th hour of the fourth day in a new decade
I will wake restless from some nightmare
about a bomb & a man with no backbone
on a golf course who clicks closed his Motorola phone
like an exclamation point against his misogynistic stance
He swings the golf club with each chant
Women let me grab
Women like me
Women vote until I say they don’t

In my nightmare he is an infective agent
In the clear of day
he is just the same

Every day he breathes is a threat to this country’s marrow
For Ida & Susan & Lucretia & Elizabeth Cady

& every day he tweets grief  
like a cynical cornball comic’s receipts 
like a red light signaling the end of times

The final night of 2019
& my New Year’s Eve plans involves
anything that will numb the pain
of a world breaking its own heart

My mother & I have already spoken
& her lungs are croaking wet
I just want you to know I don’t feel well
& I pause to pull up my stockings beneath my crumpled smile
On this day I sigh
I just wanted to dance & drink & forget about the 61.7% votes

My silk dress falls to my knees with the same swiftness
defiant as the white feminist who said “I’m your ally”
then voted for the demise of our nation’s most ignored
underpaid, imprisoned & impoverished citizens

Every day there is a telephone near 
I miss my mother
In the waiting room of the OB/GYN
Uptown bound on the dirt orange train seat of the subway
O! How my mother loves the places she can never go
Her bones swaddled with arthritis & smoke
So she relies on my daily bemoans

The train smells like yesterday, Ma
They raise the tolls & fix nothing for the people
My landlord refuses to fix my toilet, my bathroom sink, my refrigerator
The city is annoying like an old boyfriend, always buzzing about nothing 
& in the way of me making it on time to the polls
This woman didn’t say thank you when I held the door
& who does she think she is?

Each time I crack & cap on the everydayness of my day
My mother laughs as if she can see the flimsy MTA card
The yellow cabs that refuse to stop for her daughter
In these moments she can live again 
A whole bodied woman with a full mouth
to speak it plain

I ask my mother what hurts? 
What hurts? 
How can I help from here?

3000 miles away
Alone in a tower between the sea 
& the Mexico borders

My mother sighs a little sigh & says
Nothing
I just wanted to hear your voice

More by Mahogany L. Browne

Ego-Tripp(ed)

& then the poet became G  D/like
just’a rolling his tongue everywhere
like G O D must’ve
when the earth got birth(ed) & even

           after the fertile soil turned
over on herself/  & the sky--a mix

between "blue&what you looking @?"

(that was sometime afta the 5th day)

when the crumbling grit shook her grin

loose    crossed each arm & said

     “Man? Nah…we good”

Redbone Dances

If you ain’t never watched your parents kiss 
             ain’t neva have them teach you 
‘bout the way lips will       to bend & curve 
against a lover’s affirmation 

If you ain’t never watched the knowing nod 
of sweethearts worn away & soft 
as a speaker box’s blown out hiss 

If you ain’t witnessed the glue 
that connected your mother & father 
—how they fused their single selves 
into the blunt fist of parents 

If you ain’t sure there was a time when 
their eyes held each other like a nexus
breaking the lock to dip dark marbles 
into certain corners of a shot glass 

If you ain’t never known a Saturday night 
slick with shiny promises & clouds 
wrapped wet in a Pendegrass croon 

If you ain’t been taught how 
a man hold you close      so close 
…it look like a crawl 

If you ain’t had the memory 
of your mother & father sliding 
hip to hip         Their feet whisper 
a slow shuffle & shift       Her hand 
on his neck grip the shoulder of 
a man that will pass his daughters 
bad tempers       & hands like bowls

If you ain’t watched a man 
lean into a woman His eyes 
a boat sliding across bronze 
             His hands 
pillared in her auburn hair       Her 
throat              holds     the urge 

to hear how her voice sounds against 
the wind of him 

If your skin can’t fathom the heat 
of something as necessary as this… 

Then you can’t know the hurricane 
of two bodies    how    the bodies
can create the prospect of a sunrise
how that sunrise got a name 
             it sound like: a blues song; 
a woman’s       heart breaking; 
From the record player skipping 
             the sky             almost 

blue 

Redbone, Redbone Have You Heard?

Bam got tight eyes 
             Real tight 
He crazy, girl 
             But he fun to be around 
He’s so funny 
             He the life of the party 
He the oldest of them boys over on Alcatraz 
             He love them birds – the pigeons 
That’s what I heard 
             He got a cage in the backyard 
He got a cage on the roof 
             He make the cage out of cardboard & wire 
He scale roofs 
             He think he (can) fly 
I heard he stole the pigeon from Albert’s coop 
             All them boys went looking for Bam 
He just waited for them on the stoop 
             I heard they went looking through his flock 
Heard they ain’t found nothing 
             Heard they ain’t believe him 
I heard his daddy made him fight them one-on-one 
             Everybody know they call him Bam cause of his hands 
Cause his eyes so tight & you never know when he go boom! 
             He always had quick hands 
That’s how he call them birds back home 
             The rough of his hands clapping & singing loud 
That’s how he fought them boys 
             His hands ain’t but a blur 
He slap against the wind & win 
             Them boys ain’t never forgot 
But hell, what they goin’ do—he see everything 
             His eyes so tight you never know what he thinking 
He cracked his knuckles & they jumped on him 
             He clap his hands fast & it sound like a splintered bone 
They say the it sound like firecrackers 
             He say the birds can hear him that way 
He say if he clap loud enough they know to come home 
             He say home with his mouth big & smiling 
But his eyes never change, he’s so handsome 
             They say that’s how he knew where to hide Albert’s pigeon 
Say he hid Albert’s bird behind the broken board 
             His eyes shine like crazy laughter man lightning 
He got hands like his daddy 
             His hands are so quick 
                          —They steal anything worth something 

Related Poems

America, I Sing Back

for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,

nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason

broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.

Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

and sing again I will, as I have always done.

Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing

the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,

day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—

Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so

When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.

Another Poem for Mothers

Mother, I'm trying
to write
a poem to you—


which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I've wanted
to say, Mother.
..but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them. Poems to
mothers make us feel

little again. How to describe
that world that mothers spin
and consume and trap

and love us in, that spreads
for years and men and miles?
Those particular hands that could

smooth anything: butter on bread,
cool sheets or weather. It's
the wonder of them, good or bad,

those mother-hands that pet
and shape and slap,
that sew you together
the pieces of a better house
or life in which you'll try
to live. Mother,

I've done no better
than the others, but for now,
here is your clever failure.

Defiant

Fruit from one vine tangles with another
Making a mess of the intended harvest, yet
the lack of calculation is welcome
 
that accident that shifts bodies from shadows
into a locus of light midday bright & caustic
wounds un-healed   newsreel cameras trap
 
this old & angry man in a bespoke suit lifting
white pages & refusing to read them, mumbles
unwelcome threats & thanks the nation
 
the nation kicks him out—finally defiant
after years of misrule, disruption, murder
and the choked voice youth terrorized
 
he wants more blood on his hands so that
when he enters his version of paradise
all will be red.