Fannie Lou Hamer

Kamilah Aisha Moon
                        “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
 
She sat across the desk from me, squirming.
It was stifling. My suite runs hot
but most days it is bearable.
 
This student has turned in nothing,
rarely comes to class. When she does,
her eyes bore into me with a disdain
born long before either of us.
 
She doesn’t trust anything I say.
She can’t respect my station,
the words coming out of these lips,
this face. My breathing
is an affront. It’s me, she says.
 
I never was this student’s professor—
her immediate reaction
seeing me at the smart board.
But I have a calling to complete
& she has to finish college,
return to a town where
she doesn’t have to look at,
listen to or respect anyone
like me—forever tall, large
& brown in her dagger eyes,
though it’s clear she looks down
on me. She can return—
if not to her hometown, another
enclave, so many others, where
she can brush a dog’s golden coat,
be vegan & call herself
a good person.
 
Are you having difficulty with your other classes?
 
No.
 
Go, I say, tenderly.
Loaded as a cop’s gun,
she blurts point-blank
that she’s afraid of me. Twice.
My soft syllables rattle something
planted deep,
so I tell her to go where
she'd feel more comfortable
as if she were my niece or
godchild, even wish her
a good day.
 
If she stays, the ways
this could backfire! 
Where is my Kevlar shield
from her shame?
 
There’s no way to tell
when these breasts will evoke
solace or terror. I hate
that she surprises me, that I lull
myself to think her ilk
is gone despite knowing
so much more, and better.
 
I can’t proselytize my worth
all semester, exhaust us
for the greater good.
I can’t let her make me
a monster to myself—
I’m running out of time & pity
the extent of her impoverished
heart. She’s from New
England, I’m from the Mid-South.
Far from elderly, someone
just raised her like this
with love.
 
I have essays to grade
but words warp
on the white page, dart
just out of reach. I blink
two hours away, find it hard
to lift my legs, my voice,
my head precious to my parents
now being held
in my own hands.
 
How did they survive
so much worse, the millions
with all of their scars!
What would these rivers be
without their weeping,
these streets without
their faith & sweat?
 
Fannie Lou Hamer
thundered what they felt,
we feel, into DNC microphones
on black and white TV
years before
I was a notion.
 
She doesn’t know who
Fannie Lou Hamer is,
and never has to.

More by Kamilah Aisha Moon

Mercy Beach

Stony trails of jagged beauty rise
like stretch marks streaking sand-hips.
All the Earth has borne beguiles us
& battered bodies build our acres.

Babes that sleep in hewn rock cradles
learn to bear the hardness coming.
Tough grace forged in tender bones—
may this serve & bless them well.

They grow & break grief into islands
of sun-baked stone submerged in salt
kisses, worn down by the ocean's ardor
relentless as any strong loving.

May they find caresses that abolish pain.
Like Earth, they brandish wounds of gold!
 

Notes on a Mass Stranding

I.
Huge dashes in the sand, two or three
times a year they swim like words
in a sentence toward the period
of the beach, lured into sunning
themselves like humans do—
forgetting gravity,
smothered in the absence
of waves and high tides.

II.
[Pilot whales beach themselves] when their sonar
becomes scrambled in shallow water
or when a sick member of the pod
heads for shore and others follow

III.
61 of them on top of the South Island
wade into Farewell Spit.
18 needed help with their demises
this time, the sharp mercy
of knives still the slow motion heft
of each ocean heart.

IV.
Yes—even those born pilots,
those who have grown large and graceful
lose their way, found on their sides
season after season.
Is it more natural to care
or not to care?
Terrifying to be reminded a fluke
can fling anything or anyone
out of this world.

V.
Oh, the endings we swim toward
without thinking!
Mysteries of mass wrong turns, sick leaders
and sirens forever sexy                                             
land or sea.
The unequaled rush
and horror of forgetting
ourselves

Perfect Form

North Charleston, South Carolina, April 4, 2015

Walter Scott must have been a track athlete
before serving his country, having children:

his knees were high, elbows bent
at 90 degrees as his arms pumped
close to his sides, back straight and head up
as each foot landed in front of the other.
Too much majesty in his last strides.

So much depends on instinct, ingrained
legacies and American pastimes.
Relays where everyone on the team wins
remain a dream. Olympic arrogance,
black men chased for sport—
heat after heat
of longstanding, savage races
that always finish the same way.

My guess is Walter Scott ran distances
and sprinted, whatever his life events
required. Years of training and technique
are not forgotten, even at 50. Even after being
tased out of his right mind. Even in peril
the body remembers what it has been
taught, keeping perfect form
during his final dash.


Related Poems

Watch Us Elocute

June 18, 2015
 
So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around
 
in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present
 
in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously
 
from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing
 
from me, really, none at all, she whoops, Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken! & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both
 
clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,
not till the next morning & from under a scalding
 
shower do I shout: Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one
 
but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.
Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men
 
who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.
My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison
 
& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass
above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—
 
Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket
(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-
 
face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest
too much, it’s always Sir, you ever been told you sound like
 
Bryant Gumbel? Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he
 
once predicted I could do a really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.
 
I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside
calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like
 
actually, that woman from the bimonthly
CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old
 
enough to be my mother, & educated, if only
by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet
 
freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,
we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain
 
I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—
a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath
 
my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.
I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”
 
But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—
Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not
 
be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight
throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky
 
& subliminal about the unforgettable model
minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence
 
could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.
Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know
 
& not because they canceled his show
in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient
 
sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,
the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.
 
But because yesterday, literally yesterday,
some simple American citizen—throwback
 
supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—
aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine
 
black believers at an AME church in Charleston.
Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,
 
beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree
who adored his mom & wrote poems about
 
the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.
None of us is safe.