Variation 2: How to Travel

by Brenda Marie Osbey

city of palms
palms and brick
sugar
indigo
palms and live oak, cypress, pine and nànier –
city veiled in sweet olive, night jasmine, rose, mimosa
breathing azalea, camellia, oleander
city blooming straight from swamp
bamboo and black willow flat upside the
noisesome votives of human sweat, dung of pack animals –
the pound and slip and cloy of the far too many funky corner dives.

should you chance to come to my city
pray do not be taken in by the vaunted allure of the place
storied beauty of so many dark women –
men darker still –
do not tarry along the various and sundry water bodies that will seem
to rock you, coddle, contain you for a song.
at all costs, keep to outer edges of all narrow public walkways.
if you can help it, do not walk at all.
keep birth certificate, at least one passport
exactly one set of keys always among yourselves and always at the ready.
if you must drive
then
lock yourself snugly – always – inside your car your companion’s car the nearest taxi, any seeming suitable and available vehicle or secure building
bearing in mind that few buildings here ever are secure.
obey warnings read signs
many, though by no means all of which will read:
we cannot, will not be responsible for loss of life
nor any truer, more costly valuables.

travelers. travelers so often find themselves spat up
slim pickings from oh-so-lovely pearlescent teeth of small bands of natives
– wanton waste but true –
for lack of sufficient savor and spice
wanton

connoisseurs of known and of unknown delicacies
we
finger fond memories of cane liquor and sugar-tit
sweet-oil and blackest softest earth
innards and outtards gristle and bone
we
suffer from so great a wealth
of hungers
as never to grow quite full or fat or oily enough
true. all true.
the lies you have heard about my city – thoroughly simply unmistakably true.

(we still do
go at times to lake lagoon bayou-water sea  
to count
whether by head or feet excised organ or vulnerable member
our own long-captured-tortured-most-violently-anciently
discarded
on whose behalf, it happens, i appeal to you now):

attend to your your health.
at the very least keep sanitary. keep well. travel safe. stay alive.
do not chance it.

do not tarry in this city cursed and consecrated
for all its beckon and seeming beauty
the wildness
of its children
its waters
streets and street corners

ours is far too
great a hunger

we are far too many women of far too many shades of black
too lovely to be safe – and men as lovely as that
oaks and roses
tall tipsy pines
black willow
mimosa
bamboo shirring
too many
great palms and far too

many many funky dives.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from  Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Fieldwork,” and “In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of these Parts.”


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

From Virginia Suite

by Brenda Marie Osbey

1.
the grave is silent.
so much for the vanity of the living
we all are here
have been here
just beneath the redder earth
surrounding all this land with all our bones
nimble fingers
humming
and the rest

in canada, they say, the negroes all are free
so goes the song
or think we are, i tell myself
or think we are

the very idea that some negress – one such as yourself is how they say it –
should work for her own keep –
without the favor of some white man is what they mean
or pity of his pious wife and daughters
nor only work but
prosper well enough to take on workers
not for their lives’ blood as they do, no
but for right pay
and land to work
and burying-ground besides.

2.
over out near gospel hill
the gentlemen, they say, are nervous again.
and we here in lesser canada have no doubt what they do mean.

southeast to southampton no one asks slave or free
hacking negroes right and left comes very nigh a special calling,
what in the wake of that saviour whose name no one dare speak:
puts me in mind, says hester, of that other time
all other times when ones
such as myself still could
hear
some prophet wailing from out the wailing rushes

exactly what
after all
is
a free negro?

3.
my annie went down with the boys
looking i suppose to catch wild
things as children do
some while ago, says hester
land just back from there
all but fire-red with the blood of wild things

i sew and sew.

4.
my bones often think of hester’s just nearby.
wild things she’d said.
she was the first to go.
rheumatism lit a fever in her that never did die out
two of the men found her when they come out from the smokehouse
and carried her here to my bed where i
could see to her proper
she’d tended to my mother when her time came and i was born
tended me when mother went
and again when my three came.
first true thing i ever did buy was hester’s ease and comfort.
how dear it is, she she said that morning, to be my own woman now and free
and so she stayed
her small house but a few good strides from here
fire burning every day she lived:
keep off that devil cold from these poor bones

then she was gone.

and we are none of us freer living than any one dead colored woman.
that much i know i learnt from hester.

how long ago was that?

5.
they have dug all around now beneath the main house
unearthing pots, buttons, fireplaces, timbers
old women’s keepsakes, children’s treasures
shards of lives
unearthing and replanting hester, me and all the rest
such care they take
– every little thing –
such tenderness now that we are gone –
or so they tell themselves –
i feel these bones lean out to hester’s from the cold red clay
blood-earth
blind-stitching
prophets’ wailing
bones of wild things

not so very far they are planting native gardens
terraces
fountains rising from our old half-buried stream
that sometimes flooded over
sometimes not
cutting through bloodied blood red earth
cutting through this one small plot –
briefest sanctuary
home and work
laughter and sweet communion
smallest respite against so many martyrs on the way
burying-ground
and sweetest freedom

hear tell there will be feasting and much singing comes the spring
prayers tossed up around near gospel hill
and all those other blood red holy hills

and now that we are neighbors to that great institution
who ever will tell what only we could tell?
who knows the cost of what we bought and paid for?
who dares to tell the cost of mr jefferson’s
own sweet dream
and higher calling
for this upper country:

a plan so broad so liberal and so modern
so much to raise the envy
of even these learnèd few who serve its noble and enviable aim:
illimitable freedom
of the human mind

just so
just here
straight-stitched
remnants
of our own once thriving enterprise
bones of free women
this bit of land
wild things.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See two more poems from Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: City of Palms and Funky Dives”  and  “Fieldwork


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

From Virginia Suite

by Brenda Marie Osbey

In Commemoration of the Discovery of the Remains of 67 African Americans, Interred beyond the Walls of the University Cemetery at the University of Virginia

“that excluding students … enslaved African Americans were the largest pre-Civil War population residing at the Academical Village.”

remove topsoil
cater close to the principle 
of uncovering both common and uncommon past
monitor closely ensuing slow dig and soft-brushed stroke –
now inherent tools of this body of knowledge intending to reveal
whatever of human society remains
to be revealed
beneath
below
tin wood and brick
ceramicware
long anonymous cloth and bits of iron, nail
spindle and spoon
tooth
quarry stone
bone and shard
women men children
useful things
of everyday life
beneath
beyond.

cemetery no doubt in other languages also
is a graceful word
death we know
and sometimes causes, multiple causes of said deaths;
burial, means or styles of conveyance to places of burial of those dead.
measuring proximity of bodies singly and adjacent or cutting one upon another
tells something of various indicators of longtime burial practice in
specific or approximate or conjectured place.
cumulative patterns of expression and material culture of souls, however,
is an area with which neither this present and ongoing study 
nor any science we yet know of
claims so far to be equipped to deal.
interviews with known or presumed descendants can perhaps expose
basic knowledge of belief, practice
concepts of death
desire 
afterlife
beyond.

slaves here are called servants
many who write and talk such things do
say that mr jefferson himself did call it so
it does not change the conditions under which we labor
within these bounds
the uses we are put to
the ways we die
for keep of these grounds

did call himself father to all this we build and tend
did look on slavery – they like to tell –
as but one necessary evil.
did not say the others –
war mayhap

in our way it is as children gone with tetanus and pneumonia
women gone birthing
strapping men felled down in typhoid or the consumption:
violet, william and boy-bacchus
tessa’s hannah
vanalie smothered, sleeping – we all did hope –
strong mike and billy
tom young and handsome then bloated over with the filthy bile
limas old but also here with us and not alone
eliza and baby eliza almost together
woman over broadus’ place
some over maupin and perrow way. 

unknown they write and put away in ledger and book
unknown
but not to those who love and tend them in the end
not by us
not by rust-red earth
soft-brushed by hands that carry and tend
and sometimes pray
sometimes not.                                  

as much science as we now possess
it is yet difficult to advise beyond further study,
determination for remains other than ancient bearing far more upon the living
than we are at present
prepared to suppose.

sixty-seven is no small number.
nor is the body neither less nor more than the soul’s own passage.
for here some have the one-soul and others the many
some return straightaway to ancestors
while others live on even as the body itself gives way
such knowledge comes in those earliest nights
when living and dead go to meet one another
go out of an evening
to sit and talk good talk.
these things are sacred.
and it is worse than wicked to disturb those going to talk well with their own.
grave evil to prevent them from keeping
good company with their own dead.

in this place here is wickedness unimagined
except to those
who have no soul
no dead to call home
no ancestor to guide and receive them

sixty-seven is no small number
and no one of us can make a home
where ancestors do not also live.

it is well to consider
that research design is one language,
reverence another

it is well to consider
how further study in concert with broader nearer communities
than these esteemed colleagues
may impinge upon the potential weight of disinterment
of removing for analysis at this time
remains largely anonymous
yet long consigned

time to come
drums yet may beat soft and low:
tessa’s hannah
billy, strong mike
beat soft beat low
william
tom, young and handsome still
bacchus, violet
beat soft beat low
liza and baby liza
old limas rooted deep as cypress close by
surveying
beyond what-all remains of this green
embowered wood
sweet-sleeping vanalie waking only to dream again
feast-days to come
beat soft beat low
the evils of this place hardly more than memory trailing
and neither slave nor servant then
but as we are
in these our truest skins
together
soft now and low
inside this silty red
and clayey soil.

Poem copyright 2020 by Brenda Marie Osbey. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Brenda Marie Osbey debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: City of Palms and Funky Dives” and “In Memory of Katherine Foster, Free Negress, Late, of These Parts.”


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

 

by Nikki Giovanni

My goldfish are finding
winter homes under slabs
in the pond

Mother gold fish birthed
and hid four babies
this summer

they were not eaten
by birds
or their fathers

the heater is on

its my contribution
to mother nature

I have aired my quilts
and washed my blankets I will cuddle

with my dog
a good book and with any luck
a cup
of Frontier Soup

finding
my winter home

 

Poem copyright 2020 by Nikki Giovanni. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Nikki Giovanni debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: January 26, 2020” and “Vines.”

 


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

 

(The Death of Kobe Bryant)

by Nikki Giovanni

We don’t know
She does
He did
I can’t
You don’t
Know the last words
“The weather is bad
Don’t go
Stay home
They will be all
Right with out
You”

We don’t know
And actually it’s not
Our business
Was she worried
Did she feel something
Did she wish
He would for once
Listen

But she most likely kissed
Them both wondering
What they might want
For dinner
Or snacks into the evening
When they came home

She hoped they would
Win
But she was so tired
Maybe just a short
Nap
Just to close
Her eyes
For a minute
She was cold
Just needed to throw
A blanket over
Her feet
For just a minute

We don’t Know what
She thought
Or said

It’s none
Of our business
And too sad
To think
about

 

Poem copyright 2020 by Nikki Giovanni. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Nikki Giovanni debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Vines” and “Winter Homes.”

 


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

 

by Nikki Giovanni

My mother died
13 or 14 years
Ago

I took the flowers
Home
And put most in
Water
The gift of life

They sit by the window
In the sunnyside
Of my bedroom
And the roots
Have taken hold

Sometimes a leaf
Will yellow
And I pull it off

It is dead

And there must be
Room
For a new leaf

Things that are dead
Cannot be saved

My mother will always
Live in my heart

All nazis must be Picked
And thrown
away

 

Poem copyright 2020 by Nikki Giovanni. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Nikki Giovanni debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: January 26, 2020” and “Winter Homes.”

 


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

After photos by Brian Kaufman 

by jessica Care moore

 

You must wonder where the humans
                                         have gone.

Our vision, a  blurry blues behind a shy moon.
An indifferent burst of purple & yellow  light 

We exist.

As you continue to blossom life, affirm the new day.

Uncoiling your beautiful limbs, expanding  black & orange wings 
Against a turquoise sky. 

A necessary  crack in the stone, 
Spilling into lake 
forced to flower. 

A reflection of a people.
A constellation of questions

We wonder at your wonder.
As invisible fires full of stories  burn deep into a night sky
Deeply rooted, buried inside the core of  our planet
As you continue to show us 
how to transform                      a universe of rooms. 

Radiant signs of life.
Courageous greens, petaled hands of peace
Camouflaged as haiku-ed sunsets 

You show up &  defy odds
bloom into a symphony of colors

Oh! How thousands of tears have joined with this familiar rain
to water our possibility 
How you push through bitterness, 
      confusion and climate change.

Still, so still – we hear every song, every wind wrestling with our 
Sugar  Maples, Hemlocks. Our tall oaks, red as dawn.

We contemplate our next season with anxiety, with uncertainty. 

Change is a necessary sound.  

You are not silent as you take over the forest, the backyard, 

Our comfort zones. 

Delicate and fearless.

How we envy your  ability to grow 
Even when the foundation is unleveled 

How you shake loose all expectation
Embody a song of  freedom inside the harps &  strings 
Spines & bones & rubbery flesh of 
Small, incredible creatures.  

Fierce Eagles facing their own mirrors 
We are a reflection of your power.

Resilient Spring! 

The beautiful       in between 
The rise before     the Fall.

We need your grace.

               Now,  more than ever.  

 

 

 

Poem copyright 2020 by jessica Care moore. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from  jessica Care moore debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Define Safety,” and “Ramadan 20 Vs COVID-19.”

 


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

 

(Isolation Poem #3)

by jessica Care moore

Mornings are so heavy
Birds & Silence
Tea whistle on repeat

Isolation is not always
a safe place

I know little girls wishing
For wings, now.

Women who can’t escape
Violence by staying in, anymore

The birds know all
Singing is an act of survival

This mourning, is heavy
Silence cuts the air, thin as needle

Searching for an opening.

 

 

 

 

Poem copyright 2020 by jessica Care moore. All rights reserved.

&


See two more poems from jessica Care moore debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Resilient Spring”  and  “Ramadan 20 Vs COVID-19


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

by jessica Care moore 

(On the first day of Ramadan, April 23, 2020)

There are millions
Of reasons to fast

Three of my girlfriends are expecting

The Jesus children
wearing rosaries round their necks
Praying death will leave salt city

The news repeats itself, therefore, is
No longer news

We, right across the street from Lebanon
We tout the biggest masjid in the country

We have always removed shoes
Before entering our sacred homes
Wujud our bodies clean beyond 20 seconds

Detroit hijab wrapped covered beauties
Watching them all  rocking burkas, now

The projects remain the cleanest kitchens
Smells of Clorox Bleach and metal ironing boards
Creased into our daily routines

Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Sunday best     Friday is Jumah

We all praying to any ancestor
Still listening

Smiles taste like tears
Songbirds begin at 4am

My friend has lost her mother
grandmother
& Aunt             My best friend, her sister
Maria

I am brushing off the dust of my red prayer mat
Listening to Jon McReynolds and Kirk Franklin
I need everyone

Even black Jesus
to help get  us all through this

Yes, race still matters

We are not people of color
In Detroit, we are black

Upsouth people

Ma Sha Allah
Ma Sha Allah

The call to prayer is louder
Than the death toll

The call to prayer never silenced

We never die anyway
Abiodun Oyewole  reminded us
We return, we move on, we become

Psalms 23 won’t finish the day
The clocks are flying across the room

Which day is it
Whatever day you feel
Is necessary for right now   Pick one.

Which day do you feel the most beautiful

What else to do with this time
‘Cept tell somebody it happened

We were alive when the world stood still

Mahogany, Ryan and Randi
Are all pregnant during a pandemic

These resilient babies won’t stop
For outbreaks   Wait for it to end

Life continues

Even when we decide it is over
When humanity is finally white flagged
& all the oxygen from the Amazon
Is bottled and taxed like new shoes

The magnolia tree will still blossom
The same time every year in the backyard

All those thick colossal roots laughing
At our fragile bones

How we climb, how we dream
To be so bold as you

How our arms shadow your branches
How we wish to be songbirds worthy
Of your protection

The playing field is not playing
Nature is calling   Science is searching

But spirit has this all figured out
And it’s not in any of those books
Made from dead trees

Faith is not a word    It’s knowing

Belief that there is something absolutely
Beyond this place

Something that will heal the wounds
Inflicted on a continent

Sami Allahu liman hamidah  

Praying 5 times a day
May not be enough

To purge the sins against the
womb of the earth
against the hungry bellies of
The chosen people

Fasting may be the only way
To clear out the noise

The sirens the gunshots the lies

No distance
Between faiths anymore
Pick a book, any holy book

We all die in the same position
Legs spread open, mothers pushing out
the next  tomorrow

It doesn’t matter
how we die

Or at what speed

It only matters
what we are willing to die for

Let it be for the first cries
Let it be so the world is made

anew

 

 

 

Poem copyright 2020 by jessica Care moore. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from  jessica Care moore debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Define Safety,” and “Resilient Spring.”

 


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

 

by Matthew Shenoda

Winter lingers on the valley floor
mist rising in its own essence.

We are reminded of the solitary ways we interpret loss
the temporal flash of an old thatch roof
the hands that made a place for us.

A felled tree becomes a home
made of its surroundings
local, in the way our own skin might be.

The markings of a mask,
etched less with a tool
and more the steady hands of a man,

a pattern shaped in the old order,
a scar on the tree
intended to mark a life.

 

Poem copyright 2020 by Matthew Shenoda. All rights reserved.

&
See more poems from Matthew Shenoda debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Refuge” and “Revelation: Africa: Diaspora.”

 


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