The Tired Poem: Last Letter from a Typical Unemployed Black Professional Woman

©1980 Donna Kate Rushin
So it’s a gorgeous afternoon in the park
It’s so nice you forget your Attitude
The one your mama taught you
The one that says Don’t-Mess-With-Me
You forget until you hear all this
Whistling and lip-smacking
You whip around and say
I ain’t no damn dog
It’s a young guy
His mouth drops open
Excuse me Sister
How you doing
You lie and smile and say
I’m doing good
Everything’s cool Brother
Then five minutes later
Hey you Sweet Devil
Hey girl come here
You tense sigh calculate
You know the lean boys and bearded men
Are only cousins and lovers and friends
Sometimes when you say hey
You get a beautiful surprised smile
Or a good talk
And you’ve listened to your uncle when he was drunk
Talking about how he has to scuffle to get by and
How he’d wanted to be an engineer
And you talk to Joko who wants to be a singer and
Buy some clothes and get a house for his mother
The Soc and Psych books say you’re domineering
And you’ve been to enough
Sisters-Are-Taking-Care-Of-Business discussions
To know where you went wrong
It’s decided it had to be the day you decided to go to school
Still you remember the last time you said hey
So you keep on walking
What you too good to speak
Don’t nobody want you no way Ho’
You go home sit on the front steps and listen to
Your neighbor’s son brag about
How many girls he has pregnant
You ask him if he’s going to take care of the babies
What if he gets taken to court
And what are the girls going to do
He has pictures of them all
This real cute one was supposed to go to college
Dumb broad knew she could get pregnant
I’ll just say it’s not mine
On the back of this picture of a girl in a cap and gown
It says something like
I love you in my own strange way
Thank you
Then you go into the house
Flip through a magazine and there is
An Ode-To-My-Black-Queen poem
The kind where the Brother
Thanks all of the Sisters who Endured
Way back when he didn’t have his Shit Together
And you wonder where they are now
And you know what happens when you try to resist
All of this Enduring
And you think how this
Thank-you poem is really
No consolation at all
Unless you believe
What the man you met on the train told you
The Black man who worked for the State Department
And had lived in 5 countries
He said
Dear you were born to suffer
Why don’t you give me your address
And I’ll come visit
So you try to talk to your friend
About the train and the park and everything
And how it all seems somehow connected
And he says
You’re just a typical Black Professional Woman
Some sisters know how to deal
Right about here
Your end of the conversation phases out
He goes on to say how
Black Professional Women have always had the advantage
You have to stop and think about that one
Maybe you are supposed to be grateful for those sweaty
Beefy-faced white businessmen who try to pick you up at
And you wonder how many times your friend has had pennies
                                                                           /thrown at him
How many times he’s been felt up in the subway
How many times he’s been cussed out on the street
You wonder how many times he’s been offered $10 for a piece
                                                                                /of himself
$10 for a piece
So you’re waiting for the bus
And you look at this young Black man
Asking if you want to make some money
You look at him for a long time
You imagine the little dingy room at the Y
It would only take 20 minutes or less
You think about how you only get $15 for spending all day
                                                                                /with 30 kids
And how nobody is offering you
Any cash for your poems
You remember again how you have the advantage
How you’re not taking care of business
How this man is somebody’s kid brother or cousin and could be
                                                                                /your own
So you try to explain how $10 wouldn’t pay for what you’d
                                                                                /have to give up
He pushes a handful of sticky crumpled dollars into your face
                                                                                /and says
Why not
You think I can’t pay
Look at that roll
Don’t tell me you don’t need the money
Cause I know you do
I’ll give you 15
You maintain your sense of humor
You remember a joke you heard
Well no matter what
A Black Woman never has to starve
Just as long as there are
Dirty toilets and…
Somehow it isn’t funny
Then you wonder if he would at least
Give you the money
And not beat you up
But you’re very cool and say
No thanks
You tell him he should spend his time
Looking for someone he cares about
Who cares about him
He waves you off
Get outta my face
I don’t have time for that bullshit
You blew it Bitch
(Is it suddenly)
Your voice gets loud
And fills the night street
Your voice gets louder and louder
Your bus comes
The second shift people file on
The watchmen and the nurse’s aides
Look at you like you’re crazy
Get on the damn bus
And remember
You blew it
He turns away
You bus pulls off
There is no one on the street but you
And then
It is

The Black Goddess

©1980 Donna Kate Rushin
I am not a Black Goddess
I am not a Black Goddess
Look at me
Look     at me
I do what I can
That’s about it
Sometimes I make it     Sometimes I don’t
Sometimes     I know what I feel
Sometimes     I know what you feel and can say it
But I still get Night Terrors
And sometimes it takes me weeks to
Answer a letter or make a phone call
I am not a Black Goddess
I am not a Black Goddess
Once though     I was     Harriet Tubman
I sat down     in a small room     at a small table
Across from a scared Black man     shaving himself     with a
Straight razor
He’d backed the White folks into one corner     then
He’d backed himself into the other
The cops was waiting down the road
I was     Harriet     that once
I looked at that straight razor     and I looked at him
I got a grip on my guts and I said
Black Man     there’s nothing here     that’s good for you
Get your things     get in that truck     and come with me
I said     move Black Man
I said     move
Yes     I was Harriet     that once
But I am not a Black Goddess
I am not a Black Goddess
I was raised to be      agoodlittlesmalltownColoredGirl
And I took it     seriously
I hung along the edges
I stood outside the door
I squeezed myself into small     still     polite places
With a smile on my face
Like that was the way     it was supposed to be
So who am I     Harriet Tubman     or a scared little Colored Girl?
Contra?     Contra?     Contradictions?     Contradictions?
No     No Contra     Dictions
I am not a Black Goddess
I cannot save you
I am not a Black Devil
I cannot destroy you
There is     Healing in my arms
And the cold residue of fear in my cells
Yes     I was Harriet     once
But I cannot save you
I am not     a Black Goddess
I am not a Rock
I am not a Photograph
I am not a picture in your mind
I am     myself     struggling toward     myself
I am not     a Black Goddess
I am     a Black Woman
There is the residue     of fear in me
There is     Healing in my hands
If     you can hold these contra     dictions in your head
                                                                           /in your heart
You can hold me     in your arms
I am not a Black Goddess
I am not a Black Goddess
I am not a Black Goddess
I     am a Black Woman
I     am a Black Woman
I am     a Black Woman
Do you know     what I mean?
[click to view introduction]