Mother to Daughter
Poetry rides the yellow after-school bus between the thick lips of a sixth-grade girl in the last row in back. She’s leanin’ her head against the seat while she talks to make out like she don’t care. Like she don’t care, hasn’t practiced all day for this moment to shine. She gon talk about your skin. And your forehead. Fat girls, they know to go for what’s obvious, round, shining like a bulb of refrigerator light. She’s coming for you like she do for that last slice of cake sitting there at midnight when the house is pregnant with slumber and sweat—say that. Something like it anyway—but its too obvious, and she been waitin’ on this one, waitin’ on someone like you all day. She done already steeled herself to fat jokes. They roll offa her like beads of sweat. 'Sides, what you say don’t hurt more, can’t hurt no more than what her mama tell her. What her daddy say to make her cry. And she been waitin’ on this, on you, all day.
See, she ain’t pretty. Or smart. Or fast. But baby girl’s got poetry between those lips. Words so smooth and full of pain, she don’t waste 'em in school. She been waitin’ on this here and she gon take it slow, work you from top ta bottom. Start out wit yo head and make her way down to those beautiful teeth you can’t yet close your mouth up around. Talk 'bout yo shirt and jeans crying out for the mercy of Jesus to lay 'em to rest. Now she at yo feet—tighten up 'cause it's gon hurt when she counts the weeks you’ve had them babies on. You ain’t got but the one pair, and she know it. But oh, she ain’t done. She workin’ her way down still. First yo daddy, who ain’t neva been shit, won’t never be shit, but it still hurt anyway. Then yo mama. Careful, you gon wanna fight her, hit her, and maybe you should 'cause baby girl got poetry and she’s comin’ fa yo bald-headed granny. After that, there ain’t much more to get. They’re laughing good, loud. Too loud. So you turn to one of them, the ugliest one, and you say, "What’s so funny, Imani? I know you ain’t talkin' wit yo . . ." and then go. 'Cause baby, you got poetry, if your mama taught you right.
Chioma Urama is an artist from Virginia with an intense regard for the past. Chioma is a recent graduate of the University of Miami MFA program where she was a Michener Fellow. She was a recipient of the 2015 Fred Shaw Fiction Prize and received honorable mention in the 2017 Lindenwood Review Lyric Essay contest. Her writing has been published in Pleiades and the New Orleans Review, and is forthcoming in the Normal School and Blackbird.
Illustration by Nusha Ashjaee.