Just Right

Featured Illustration: Danielle Brooks, ‘Black Woman’

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I try on masks and coats,

Trying to find the right face and skin

Lest they dump me in the graveyard 

And hang me out to dry

Like rotten fruit in a bowl

Careful to separate me from the others 

Lest I spoil them too,

So focused on speaking the truth

I forget they’d rather kill me than listen

To this tongue that wags

Speaking the kind of wisdom they should have

With their many years they line together

And pin on their uniforms

Like some sort of medal 

Though we both understand

I have no degree but truths 

From these few years of mine

So I tried on that big black coat

Thinking this must be it

Until they shot it down with bullets

And set it on fire

Afraid enough of this big Black body

They’d rather spend my entire life

And the life of my skinfolk and kinfolk

Pulling us down once we reached

The top of that hill they built 

With the very bones of our ancestors

Adding another body to the pile

Then weeping with us 

Only to anger once we raised our voice in sorrow

Thinking we have no right to wail

In this world where they changed the odds against us

Because ain’t no way they gonna let a Black woman win

In this game where they chain our minds

Not limbs.

So I tried on that rainbow coat

Though my own kinfolk tore it to shreds right off my back

Calling this coat dirty laundry, a sin to God himself,

And the highest form of moral degradation.

Clawing into me as if trying to rip this part of myself

Out of me

Like some cancer I caused 

From years of smoking cigars with the Devil.

So I put on this coat of faith,

This humble peaceful thing,

Thinking my devotion to God

Was no one’s concern but my own

Though they ripped off my sisters’ veils

With nothing but the stroke of a pen

And the words of a man who tells us 

This isn’t personal

As if we don’t know the way they eye us

In airports, schools, and busses

Shops, work, and home,

As if we’ll commit mass murder

The second they look away.

So I tried on all these coats

But they’re all withered shredded things now,

Indistinguishable remnants of people I tried to be

Wear masks of docile sweetness

And a lovely cool calm

Though my skin burns from anger

And wails escape these lips

So when they tell me to try another coat

Thinking they could tear me down again

I stroll naked through these streets

Because this self is just right.