POETRY

Midnight Shift

for my Daddy, those friends Dads who worked in the J&L Steel Mills

 

North, juke-joints, frenzy feet tapped

tore-up floors to city finger-picked guitars

quicker than field boys’ jigs, flying dice

against back cement walls.

 

We’re gonna jump down turn around

pick a bale of cotton

jump down turn around pick a bale a day.

 

Daddy’s bandana survived drenched sweat of crop

fields, now nicked fire hurled from liquefied orange

steel, spiritual hymn of steel mills, heaven, hot,

hades. No cool creek by the field, no cool rains.

 

Foundation of soot and iron shaves, plasters

skin. His croaky lungs, calls bullfrogs long

ways off, Alabama ponds, hushed shadows.

Jump up Friday nights, boogie on threadbare

linoleum floors, with loose women and drink.

 

            Me and my gal can pick a bale of cotton,

            Me and my gal can pick a bale a day.

 

Brothers, Uncles, came, 1950s, crammed tight

oil stench squares, burst in spurts at Pittsburgh

station. Scattered folks northern towns sideroads

brown shanties built along Ohio, muddy rivers,

dirt roads of Aliquippa, Homestead, Braddock.

 

Mother, children abandoned wood shotgun houses,

wax paper window panes where sun crept through

one room, where lovemaking, Bible reading shared

quarters. Kettles cradled okra, collards, hominy.

 

Wind-carried aroma deposited on line-dried clothes,

stomped by creek rocks, whop, whop, whoop. Cotton

bred backs courted steel mills. Provider, protector,

slickers fares to shine a killer-diller coat, dips, give

way to chime swing of daddy bucks watch and chain.

 

            Jump down turn around

 

Chains of men raw callus hands, flung 100-pound

cotton bags over shoulders; strong tendons pulled

thighs and shoulders tight, blistered fingers

buried under rough leather gloves, grip, lift

greet glowing ingots, tossed like cotton bales.

 

          Lordy, pick a bale of cotton

 

Daddy told all those we left behind, we’s gonna be rich.

Bonita Lee 2020, Friend of SCC

Keep In Your Heart The Blood

Remember always the glory days,
the dances, the songs, the chants, the rituals, the customs,
the people.

Remember times in beautiful Africa, your people.
From green forests, golden deserts, to the deepest, darkest regions
of Congo and Virunga.

Hear, here in this land.

Hear always in your heart the beating of drums,
the ancient customs of the Kagani.

Remember always the kings and queens,
Tutankhamen, Cleopatra.

But do not sit and not remember the dark days.
Keep In Your Heart The Blood.

Blood spilled by those who fought for freedom.
The blood of the slave as the whip touches the flesh.

Do not be enslaved, be now empowered.
Feel it, taste it, drink it.

Gather it in buckets, bathe in it.
Bathe your children in it

Keep In Your Heart The Blood

 

Kristina Kay, Keep In Your Heart The Blood  © 1996, Juneteenth.com

We Rose

From Africa’s heart, we rose

Already a people, our faces ebon, our bodies lean,

We rose

Skills of art, life, beauty and family
Crushed by forces we knew nothing of, we rose

Survive we must, we did,
We rose

We rose to be you, we rose to be me,
Above everything expected, we rose

To become the knowledge we never knew,
We rose

Dream, we did
Act we must

 

Kristina Kay, We Rose  © 1996, Juneteenth.com

Tuesdays in 1970

 

Can you see/ my sister/ in the night/ and the red glaring blood clear at last/ say/ can you see/ my sister/ say can you see/ my sister/ and sing no more of war.

“Poem to my Sister” - June Jordan

 

1965 summer, his lofty stance, overshadows the sun’s gaze

against his family’s gray painted porch. Paint chips littered four

 

steps like fallen leaves, gives way to blistered stone fragments

of decayed brick sidewalk, path from yard to road. Long boxes

 

black, boxes excreted from military cargo airplanes, nightly

shown. To herself, she counted, not understanding why he

 

volunteered, hating death by bombs, not understanding war.

 

Tuesday’s Tour of Duty, February 3rd bullets hail as red

ants in summer, out of small dirt hills, in between sidewalk

 

cracks, pour out streams of lava, bullets, metal flames scald

flesh. Fatality illness spreads across Ho Chi Minh's country

 

dense canopy jungles, muddy rice paddies, darkened forests.

 

Tuesday settled in Quang Nam, February 17th, in low lands

flat lands, flooded beneath the B Ren Bridge, hostile land

 

1st Battalion, 7th Marines touched down land, in all their

greenery. Out cometh the cherry, rifled man, thick frames

 

tacked to helmet, fresh snap back elastic bands, still smelt

of home, civilization. His body engaged in its’ strangeness

 

hostilities reeked chaotic battles; its language coded, hurried

and abbreviated. Country that sweated death; fourteen days

 

in this, child of man, marine-solider green, whose smile still

gleamed, was awarded his place on Panel 13 West Line 023.

Bonita Lee 2020, Friend of SCC

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