Size color class I was never allowed to be little

And by little I mean innocent

By little I mean allowed to play

make mistakes

If anything occurred in whatever setting

I was always blamed

I was mistaken constantly for being older than I was

At 6 when my stepmother came she refused to

allow me alone time with my father

If a moment occurred she asked

What were you doing with him?

As if I at 6 were molesting my father

I was caught once through an open bathrobe

trying to see my father’s penis

My stepmother never forgot

You were trying to look at him, she said.

I was not given toys books anything

Stuffed animals

Bows ribbons anything that may be attached to a little girl

I was also my mother’s sounding board for her adult problems

with my Dad

Constantly instructed to call the police

when he hit her

The only thing my parents could figure out to do together

for some small infraction was to give me punishment

2 weeks

So I never knew the nurturance

that girls got

My adult life has duplicated this

always to blame

always outside

refusing to see my little girl

On occasion my mother sent me to the store to get candy

Things that she liked

Fire balls

Reese's peanut butter cups

Kit Kat bars

Black licorice

Sometimes red which I liked


I remember once chewing a pack of red Twizzlers as an adult

the red stem hung out of my mouth

A friend at the time exclaimed

You're such a little girl …

And once when I was with a woman

Someone looked on and said oh

Your little girl is out

In relationships too I was never

the little girl

In fact in most of them I rescued radically immature women

I was their mother caretaker

the one with all responsibility

And of course when it ended I was always to blame

Everything to me lies around class race gender lines

Even in so called evolved communities

Even with people of color

I always know no one would treat a white skinned woman or a man the way I've been treated

In colleges where I teach

I'm always aware of the hierarchy

People screaming about diversity

I moan complain

How the Aids narrative only belongs to men

They never ask women

Black women

As if Aids didn't happen to us

Our fathers brothers sons nephews

Cousins acquaintances

The black gay boys in the choir

became our disappeared

I remember a pair of black gay men

who were spiritual

would act as ministers

and bury the dead black boys

families wouldn't recognize

These men showed up as the priests

and gave last rites

And what of the women

A mother nursing a grown son

returned to a baby

ravaged by Aids

Me being young myself going into sick wards

like leper colonies

seeing those abandoned by society

I never forgot

Even my era did not allow me to be little


A threat if I spoke up

A competitor for middle class white girls

who had the world handed to them

And resented me/you for surviving

thriving despite all odds.


From Funeral Diva (City Lights Books, 2020). This poem originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail. Used with the permission of City Lights Books and the author.