When Fannie Lou Hamer Said

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired 

           She meant
                      No more turned cheek
                      No more patience for the obstruction
                      of black woman’s right to vote
                      & plant & feed her family

           She meant
                      Equality will cost you your luxurious life
                      If a Black woman can’t vote
                      If a brown baby can’t be fed
                      If we all don’t have the same opportunity America promised

           She meant
                      Ain’t no mountain boulder enough
                      to wan off a determined woman

           She meant
                      Here
           Look at my hands
                      Each palm holds a history
                      of the 16 shots that chased me
                      harm free from a plantation shack

           Look at my eyes
                      Both these are windows
                      these little lights of mine

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me
                      from marching out a jail cell still a free woman

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me from running for Congress

           She meant
                      No black jack beating will stop my feet from working
                      & my heart from swelling
                      & my mouth from praying

           She meant
                      America! you will learn freedom feels like
                      butter beans, potatoes & cotton seeds
                      picked by my sturdy hands

           She meant

           Look
           Victoria Gray, Anna Divine & Me
           In our rightful seats on the house floor

           She meant  
                      Until my children
                      & my children’s children
                      & they babies too
                      can March & vote
                      & get back in interest
                      what was planted
                      in this blessed land

           She meant
                      I ain’t stopping America
                      I ain’t stopping America

Not even death can take away from my woman’s hands
what I’ve rightfully earned

More by Mahogany L. Browne

Ego-Tripp(ed)

& then the poet became G  D/like
just’a rolling his tongue everywhere
like G O D must’ve
when the earth got birth(ed) & even

           after the fertile soil turned
over on herself/  & the sky--a mix

between "blue&what you looking @?"

(that was sometime afta the 5th day)

when the crumbling grit shook her grin

loose    crossed each arm & said

     “Man? Nah…we good”

Redbone Dances

If you ain’t never watched your parents kiss 
             ain’t neva have them teach you 
‘bout the way lips will       to bend & curve 
against a lover’s affirmation 

If you ain’t never watched the knowing nod 
of sweethearts worn away & soft 
as a speaker box’s blown out hiss 

If you ain’t witnessed the glue 
that connected your mother & father 
—how they fused their single selves 
into the blunt fist of parents 

If you ain’t sure there was a time when 
their eyes held each other like a nexus
breaking the lock to dip dark marbles 
into certain corners of a shot glass 

If you ain’t never known a Saturday night 
slick with shiny promises & clouds 
wrapped wet in a Pendegrass croon 

If you ain’t been taught how 
a man hold you close      so close 
…it look like a crawl 

If you ain’t had the memory 
of your mother & father sliding 
hip to hip         Their feet whisper 
a slow shuffle & shift       Her hand 
on his neck grip the shoulder of 
a man that will pass his daughters 
bad tempers       & hands like bowls

If you ain’t watched a man 
lean into a woman His eyes 
a boat sliding across bronze 
             His hands 
pillared in her auburn hair       Her 
throat              holds     the urge 

to hear how her voice sounds against 
the wind of him 

If your skin can’t fathom the heat 
of something as necessary as this… 

Then you can’t know the hurricane 
of two bodies    how    the bodies
can create the prospect of a sunrise
how that sunrise got a name 
             it sound like: a blues song; 
a woman’s       heart breaking; 
From the record player skipping 
             the sky             almost 

blue 

Redbone, Redbone Have You Heard?

Bam got tight eyes 
             Real tight 
He crazy, girl 
             But he fun to be around 
He’s so funny 
             He the life of the party 
He the oldest of them boys over on Alcatraz 
             He love them birds – the pigeons 
That’s what I heard 
             He got a cage in the backyard 
He got a cage on the roof 
             He make the cage out of cardboard & wire 
He scale roofs 
             He think he (can) fly 
I heard he stole the pigeon from Albert’s coop 
             All them boys went looking for Bam 
He just waited for them on the stoop 
             I heard they went looking through his flock 
Heard they ain’t found nothing 
             Heard they ain’t believe him 
I heard his daddy made him fight them one-on-one 
             Everybody know they call him Bam cause of his hands 
Cause his eyes so tight & you never know when he go boom! 
             He always had quick hands 
That’s how he call them birds back home 
             The rough of his hands clapping & singing loud 
That’s how he fought them boys 
             His hands ain’t but a blur 
He slap against the wind & win 
             Them boys ain’t never forgot 
But hell, what they goin’ do—he see everything 
             His eyes so tight you never know what he thinking 
He cracked his knuckles & they jumped on him 
             He clap his hands fast & it sound like a splintered bone 
They say the it sound like firecrackers 
             He say the birds can hear him that way 
He say if he clap loud enough they know to come home 
             He say home with his mouth big & smiling 
But his eyes never change, he’s so handsome 
             They say that’s how he knew where to hide Albert’s pigeon 
Say he hid Albert’s bird behind the broken board 
             His eyes shine like crazy laughter man lightning 
He got hands like his daddy 
             His hands are so quick 
                          —They steal anything worth something 

Related Poems

Fannie Lou Hamer

                        “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.