Better Living

by Khadijah Queen

According to whatever magazine
trying to sell me ________
gloss rules bounty,
happiness, what’s called tasteful
color, arranged
space, minimal, to me
so abstract even in my new
income bracket. On my ninth
birthday the white friends
I invited home for
my party couldn’t come,
their parents finding
our address in the ghetto
I called a neighborhood, a street
where I sped my tassel-handled bike
streaming pink and lavender and light
blue in the whizzing wake of fast cars,
a home with people eating
greens for breakfast and cereal
for dinner and bean soup
when money got low and
everything still tasted too good
because we knew what it felt like
to go hungry. The ghetto a site of invention
even if you only learn
to invent your means of escape.
Sometimes another view
changes your own. When I describe
a thing as ghetto, I mean invented
from scraps, from polluted air, starved
belly squeeze and small body hiding from
stray gang/cop
bullets or family fists
or the smoke that fills
the lungs of those who made you,
whose care singes
and soothes in the span of minutes,
salve and slap. When I say
my mind has ghetto shapes
I mean the chaos panic
I move through like L.A.
Colors-era streets with danger
and death as ordinary a shade
as trees the city
ripped out in the name of close
surveillance. The urban
planning didn’t account
for busing to preserve what
I already knew.
Who I softened into despite
buckled concrete miles I tripped
and ran over in cheap white shoes,
toes poking through too-big
socks folded into necessary discomfort,
who counts luxury
not as owning or labels or jewels
or even bragging rights. I claim a self
beyond place. You can’t know me
or my hood, your language
too small, too fake.
Let a real one tell it.
A self in a place so safe
it must be and can’t be white
can’t help living better.
No one else gave me this
furniture. I bought it, and yes,
on credit. Obsessed with earning
and proving. On Crenshaw,
I learned to skip red, blue, to love
purple. Black. Tightrope
silence when I could
read what my body made
others think they could do
to it. Fighting
for a center without moving.
Afraid of what. I can’t afford it.

Poem copyright 2022 by Khadijah Queen. All rights reserved.

See two more poems from Khadijah Queen debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Choice”  and  “Bordeaux Aubade

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

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