The Secret of Youth

Last night I asked my mother to cornrow my hair
A skill I had been practicing since last summer
But always ended with a tumbleweed excuse of a braid

My black has always resided in braids
In tango fingers that work through tangles
Translating geometry from hands to head

For years my hair was cultivated into valleys and hills
That refused to be ironed out with a brush held in my hand
I have depended on my mother to make them plains

I am 18 and still sit between my mother’s knees
I still welcome the cracks of her knuckles in my ears
They whisper to me and tell me the secret of youth

I want to be 30 sitting between my mother’s knees
Her fingers keeping us both young while organizing my hair
I never want to flatten the hills by myself
I want the brush in her hand forever

Related Poems

One Sweet Braid Down She Back

I want thirty more years of poems
I want tiger lily poems
orange blossom poems
poems by Lucille Clifton and Suheir Hammad

poems by Dionne Brand and Joy Harjo
I want Grace Jones to sing she “Bumper song,” sweet and lawless
doh care a damn what nobody feel
I want Jamaican yard talk poems how I love that Nannie ah de Maroons talk

gimme some Trini bush poems
spiked with Vat 19 rum
and plenty blue hundred dollar bills
lots and lots of blue bills so mami cud just stay home brush she hair and count bills

make flying fish and dumplings count blue bills and
make babies with names like
tamarind and flambeau names like one sweet braid down she back
names like kneel-n-pray

names like inhabited and poems to light white candles
poems that blow kerosene and inspire rage
poems to taunt the gods and almost get them
vex                                                             let mami stay home cut oil drums to
make steel pan

and rock melodies until my dead
twin come walking unshaven in de yard
with Malik on he arm and say
all right all’yuh we home

we light ah big yard fire make pigtail soup and smoked duck
and Guinness stout ice cream this time around de girls go churn de ice
       de boys go pour de salt we go praise sing for we dead
we go drink old oak rum rub a little on de chiren gums

we go brew mauby bark and sorrell
and at sixty-seven granny go collect fresh blood an child-bear again
Cheryl and mami go get back de twins dey lost at birth
da go be bacchanal plenty ting fer neighbors to talk bout.

From

from (→) prep. 1. Starting at (a particular place or time): As in, John was from Chicago, but he played guitar straight from the Delta; he wore a blue suit from Robert Hall's; his hair smelled like coconut; his breath, like mint and bourbon; his hands felt like they were from slave times when he touched me—hungry, stealthy, trembling. 2. Out of: He pulled a knot of bills from his pocket, paid the man and we went upstairs. 3. Not near to or in contact with: He smoked the weed, but, surprisingly, he kept it from me. He ~aid it would make me too self-conscious, and he wanted those feelings as far away from us as possible; he said a good part of my beauty was that I wasn't conscious of my beauty. Isn't that funny? So we drank Bloody Mothers (Hennessey and tomato juice), which was hard to keep from him—he always did like to drink. Out of the control or authority of: I was released from my mama's house, from dreams of hands holding me down, from the threat of hands not pulling me up, from the man that knew me, but of whom I did not know; released from the dimming of twilight, from the brightness of morning; from the love I thought had to look like love; from the love I thought had to taste like love, from the love I thought I had to love like love. 5. Out of the totality of: I came from a family full of women; I came from a family full of believers; I came from a pack of witches—I'm just waiting to conjure my powers; I came from a legacy of lovers—I'm just waiting to seduce my seducer; I came from a pride of proud women, and we take good care of our young. 6. As being other or another than: He couldn't tell me from his mother; he couldn't tell me from his sister; he couldn't tell me from the last woman he had before me, and why should he—we're all the same woman. 7. With (some person, place, or thing) as the instrument, maker, or source: Here's a note from my mother, and you can take it as advice from me: A weak lover is more dangerous than a strong enemy; if you're going to love someone, make sure you know where they're coming from. 8. Because of: Becoming an alcoholic, learning to walk away, being a good speller, being good in bed, falling in love—they all come from practice. 9. Outside or beyond the possibility of: In the room, he kept me from leaving by keeping me curious; he kept me from drowning by holding my breath in his mouth; yes, he kept me from leaving till the next day when he said Leave. Then, he couldn't keep me from coming back.

Mama's Promise

I have no answer to the blank inequity
of a four-year-old dying of cancer.
I saw her on TV and wept
with my mouth full of meatloaf.

I constantly flash on disasters now;
red lights shout Warning. Danger.
everywhere I look.
I buckle him in, but what if a car
with a grille like a sharkbite
roared up out of the road?
I feed him square meals,
but what if the fist of his heart
should simply fall open?
I carried him safely
as long as I could,
but now he's a runaway
on the dangerous highway.
Warning. Danger. I've started to pray.

But the dangerous highway

when I hold his yielding hand
and snip his minuscule nails
with my vicious-looking scissors.
I carry him around
like an egg in a spoon,
and I remember a porcelain fawn,
a best friend's trust,
my broken faith in myself.
It's not my grace that keeps me erect
as the sidewalk clatters downhill
under my rollerskate wheels.

Sometimes I lie awake
troubled by this thought:
It's not so simple to give a child birth;
you also have to give it death,
the jealous fairy's christening gift.

I've always pictured my own death
as a closed door,
a black room,
a breathless leap from the mountaintop
with time to throw out my arms, lift my head,
and see, in the instant my heart stops,
a whole galaxy of blue.
I imagined I'd forget,
in the cessation of feeling,
while the guilt of my lifetime floated away
like a nylon nightgown,
and that I'd fall into clean, fresh forgiveness.

Ah, but the death I've given away
is more mine than the one I've kept:
from my hands the poisoned apple,
from my bow the mistletoe dart.

Then I think of Mama,
her bountiful breasts.
When I was a child, I really swear,
Mama's kisses could heal.
I remember her promise,
and whisper it over my sweet son's sleep:

        When you float to the bottom, child,
        like a mote down a sunbeam,
        you'll see me from a trillion miles away:
        my eyes looking up to you,
        my arms outstretched for you like night.