He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps when Mom unlocked and opened the front door. O God, he said, O God. He wants to kill me, Mom. When Mom unlocked and opened the front door at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep. He wants to kill me, he told her, looking over his shoulder. 3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep, What's going on? she asked, Who wants to kill you? He looked over his shoulder. The devil does. Look at him, over there. She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you? The sky wasn't black or blue but the green of a dying night. The devil, look at him, over there. He pointed to the corner house. The sky wasn't black or blue but the dying green of night. Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives. My brother pointed to the corner house. His lips flickered with sores. Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives. O God, I can see the tail, he said, O God, look. Mom winced at the sores on his lips. It's sticking out from behind the house. O God, see the tail, he said, Look at the goddamned tail. He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps. Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother. O God, O God, she said.
My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need
someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live
because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.
I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot
of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps—
Maps are ghosts: white and
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,
knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more
than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.
All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time
to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me
for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than
my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.
*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."