Mr. Africa Poetry Lounge!

The Girlfriend's Train

"You write like a Black woman who's never been hit before."
                                                                                      -PATIENCE RAGE

I read poetry in Philly
for the first time ever.
She started walking up,
all the way, from in back
of the room.

From against the wall
she came,
big coat, boots,
eyes soft as candles
in two storms blowing.

Something she could not see
from way back there but
could clearly hear in my voice,
something she needed to know
before pouring herself back out
into the icy city night.

She came close to get a good look,
to ask me something she found
in a strange way missing
from my Black woman poetry.

Sidestepping the crowd
ignoring the book signing line,
she stood there waiting
for everyone to go, waiting
like some kind of Representative.

And when it was just the two of us
She stepped into the shoes of her words:

              You write real soft.
              Spell it out kind.
              No bullet holes,
              No open wounds,
              In your words.
              How you do that?
              Write like you never been hit before?
              But I could hardly speak,
              all my breath held ransom
              by her question.

I could hardly speak,
all my breath held ransom
by her question.

I looked at her and knew:
There was a train on pause somewhere,
maybe just outside the back door
where she had stood, listening.

A train with boxcars
that she was escorting somewhere,
when she heard about the reading.

A train with boxcars
carrying broken women's bodies,
their carved up legs with bullet riddled
stomachs momentarily on pause
from moving cross country.

Women's bodies;
brown, black and blue,
laying right where coal, cars,
and cattle usually do.

She needed my answer
for herself and for them too.

              We were just wondering
              how you made it through
              and we didn't?

I shook my head.
I had never thought about
having never been hit
and what it might have
made me sound like.

              Guess how many times I been stabbed?

She raised her blouse
all the way above her breasts,
the cuts on her resembling
some kind of grotesque wallpaper.

How many women are there like you?

Then I knew for sure.

She had been sent in from the Philly cold,
by the others on the train,
to listen, stand up close,
to make me out as best she could.

She put my hand overtop hers
asked could we stand up
straight back to straight back,
measure out our differences
right then and there.

She gathered it all up,
wrote down the things she could,
remembering the rest to the trainload
of us waiting out back for answers.

Full to the brim with every age
of woman, every neighborhood
of woman, whose name
had already been forgotten.

The train blew his whistle,
she started to hurry.

I moved towards her
and we stood back to back,
her hand grazing the top
of our heads,
my hand measuring out
our same widths,
each of us recognizing
the brown woman latitudes,
the Black woman longitudes
in the other.

I turned around
held up my shirt
and brought my smooth belly
into her scarred one;
our navels pressing,
marking out some kind of new
equatorial line.

Written by Nikky Finney


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