Lightening

Deborah Paredez

for Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri)

—Composed on the 45th anniversary of Fred Hampton's murder, Chicago IL—

you didn’t look

down or back, spent

the fractured minutes

studying each crease

and curve of the law-

men’s faces

so later you could tell

            how it happened:

how you crossed over
           
            his body, how you kept

your hands up

how you didn't

reach for anything

not your opened robe—

nothing—how they said he's good

            and dead

how you crossed

over the threshold

how you lifted one

and then the other

slippered foot across the ice

            how you kept yourself

from falling—how

your bared belly bore

the revolver’s burrowing snout—

            how   
how   

—how when the baby starts

            to descend, it’s called

lightening though

it feels like a weight

you cannot bear—lightening

            is when you know

it won't be

long before it's over

More by Deborah Paredez

Change of Address

Rate your pain the physical
therapist instructs and I am trying
not to do what they say
women do lowballing the number
trying hard not to try so hard
to be the good patient scattered
assurances lining the aisles like
dead petals and me left
holding nothing but what’s been
emptied out obviously I am over-
thinking it when I settle on someplace
in the middle six or seven
times a week I walk past the street
vendor on Broadway and say
nothing while eyeing the same
pom-topped hat the physical
therapist asking me now
for the name of that Chinese place
where I sometimes go asking
for the patient just before me
a street vendor in need
of a cheap massage as I lay
the plain wreckage of my shoulders
in the shallow hollows
the street vendor’s body has left
on the padded table in the center
of the story I sometimes read
to my girl a cap seller sleeps
under a tree’s shade waking
to find the monkeys in the
branches above have plundered
his wares he waves his hands shakes
his fists until his rage makes him
throw his cap to the ground and the
monkeys mimic him and down
float his caps his fury finally
fulsome enough to restore
what he’s lost you’ve got to find
another way to move the physical
therapist modeling for me the poses
to mimic assuring her I won’t move
what’s left of the heavy boxes later
unpacking the last of them I learn
about the woman who once lived
here Charlotte who twisted the cap and shook
out the pills Charlotte who swallowed
and slipped into sleep in her last act
of volition here in this bedroom where
the westward windows go on longing
for dawn and I am trying to move in
a new way to pull the mess of sloughed
hair from the bathtub drain to move
in the space of another's suffering
scrub the caked toothpaste
from the sink make a home
in the space where suffering
may meet its end.

Hecuba on the Shores of Da Nang, 1965

Again the sea-machines creep from the east,
their Cronus jaws unlatched and pups expelled.
The scene the same. Again. Again. The sand
now boot-lace muck, the rutted shore resigned.
No words will do. Laments will not withstand
this thrashing tide. It's time for snarling beast-
speak. Gnash-rattle. Fracas-snap. Unmuzzled
hell-hound chorus unbound from roughened tongues.
Kynos-sema keen-keen lash-kaak nein grind
then ground and rot and reek and teeth and grief
and gabble ratchet growl: custodian
of woe. It doesn't end. Fleets on the reef,
horizon buckling. To meet what comes
the body cleaves from all that is human.

St. Joske's

Since before the war there was always work.
In '38, Papa sweating all day
for the WPA, Mrs. Wright
hiring Mama and her sisters to mind
the children and the wash—plenty to watch
after in white folks' homes, too much to name.

Took my diploma when they called my name.
Droughton's Business College trained us for work
that spun our rough hands to silk.  My wristwatch
wound mornings to keep time with the workday,
shorthand scrawl etched and sprawling in my mind.
I learned to type and file and smile and write

a message in clear script, to get it right
the first time, not forget the fancy names
of men in suits, to keep it all in mind.
Guarantee Shoe Company, where I worked
first, had me stamping bills, but busy days
I made sales, rang the register and watched

ladies with delicate feet and watches
sparkling with jewel-light from their thin wrists write
checks in their husband's names.  But come Friday
I thought only of the check with my name
on it. Treated myself after work
to a Joske's fountain soda, my mind's

burdens lifting like bubbles, wallet mined
for jukebox dimes.  I'd sit a while to watch
the shoppers and the clerks on break from work
bent over pie at the counter, a rite
shared by the weary no matter their names,
Formica hewn like a pew on Sunday.

Joske's was a fancy store in its day.
Perfumed aisles and Persian rugs—had to mind
your manners, not give our folks a bad name—
fourth-floor Fantasyland's Santa on watch.
St. Joseph's Church next store keeping folks right
with God, refused to sell when Joske's worked

up its expansion plans.  Still came the day
they worked their dozers, dollar signs in mind.
We watched that store exert its divine right.