from Fall and Response

Shit from Shinola

For: Ralph Northam,
Ex-Governor of Virginia

How many times do you have to put black shoe polish on your face
to learn its bad for white skin
when it’s made for shoes?

In 1984, Brown vs. Board was 30 years old and you were 25
Virginia’s first Black governor one year away
the photo in your medical school year book
as carefully selected as any senior’s

your inability to remember as much a disguise
as your Blackface.

Next day’s news you apologize,

day after it wasn’t you, the story you tell of winning
a Michael Jackson dance contest,

the reporter’s request
prompting you to look for space to moonwalk
saved by your wife
who rings like a bell to stop your other foot,
from beginning to slide.

*Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

Rental Property

I’ve always rented, all my life.       Mama, we got to move again? Slap…

Hold hand.       Me and my brother

his t-shirt on backwards.       Another white man

landlord.    Always answers when rent is due.

One-night bed bugs      bit everything.

Mama cries      asks for exterminator.

We stay up      Wait weeks      Then cat hops

with bugs.      We move out      Mama owes

rent.      Ex-landlord calls every day now…We

grow up.      Mama dies behind. Billy buys

house with wife. I move twenty-five times

in twenty-five years.      Keep rent receipts in box

that gets big.       At night I      sit on somebody else’s

porch.    Watch the moon like mama’s coming back.

Pray.     For change.

*Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

Heart bop

Holding heart in hand is a good way to catch the blues,
defined different by each person who catches what they can’t
get rid of. No medicine for bad luck, for heart stuck in one place
like a gearshift on a truck going downhill. Once caught, blues
gets in everything like salt. Leaves small wounds in blues notes
everywhere but where you’re looking at the moment.

I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it

Worst way to try and get rid of the blues
is to fall in love. Right at the moment you think
you’ve found man who has the answer
you find out he don’t know shit either and what two of you
don’t know put together can kill. Whoever said
what don’t kill you makes you stronger lied. Don’t do
no good to repeat clichés when man you love just put
your heart back in hand and left.

I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it

After a while blood begins to dry on palm,
you miss the beat, take a chance, put heart
back where it belongs, make up a new blues
song that rhymes, contact every man you ever
thought you loved, sweet talk to get his attention,
tell him a story about you with a happy ending.

I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it

*Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

Notes: 1. A ‘bop’ is an African American blues form created by Afaa M. Weaver
2. The refrain is from “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway. Atlantic Recording Company,

Washing dishes by hand

Granny washes dishes in our kitchen
sleeveless, cornflower blue house dress
trimmed in plaid
always busy hands dipping deep in water
her thoughts
some secret
some about Duffy
her husband of 42 years.
I rush to sink, wrap my arms around her waist
hold on tight to 1988
before she died of breast cancer.
Feel my own hands alone in the suds
finishing our dishes.

*Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.