Photo of the author and her father. Courtesy of author.

Linea Nigra

On the occasion of the death of my father, December 3, 2017

 

It was 79 degrees when I was born,
sun drenched, not yet hot as old old
fashioned love, Daddy loved to say,
his brown tobacco face wry with
half a hambone-Smithfield smile,

he having just said the most juke
joint thing he would ever say, there
was wind, golden Monarchs flew
the 5000 miles, their gauzy wings
parachute wide, their airish zeal for

international time zones not the
great news back then, canons of
silver water pounding the shiny
bicycle hard thighs of Black boys
into the curb, the patent leather

feet of their sisters being lifted
off manicured lawns; the news,
butterflies were orange and black
flying machines, I loved being
a Black girl on her back from the

very start, when Daddy drove me
through his land of landlocked,
thick-lipped, black swans, creased
as a Freedom Rider’s bus prayer
inside the Buick’s great bay, while

every Brown-headed Thrasher &
Chickadee, made motion to me,
first warbled then moseyed up
my sleeve, to hibernate through
my Black girl winters, before legs

and breasts, before the arrival of
whispers, of being hunchbacked
& hunted, marked, I loved being
a Black girl but had not yet learned
to play dead, had not yet been

emptied out my school desk onto
the learning floor, Peacekeeper
punishment for staring into the
cobalt eyes of my phone, instead
of answering his question, he holds

me half in the air, half in the wall,
I stare at my frozen in place class
mates, I wonder if my mother is
dead and who will brush my hair
when I finally hit the ground?

I loved being a Black girl before
I knew the dangers, preferring to
stare up through custom made
glass, private monocle of Black
girl speculative thinking, I had not

yet walked to a stranger’s door,
my dead battery of a car waiting
behind me, my human knock
for help, not yet met by a double
barrel shotgun blast to the face,

I still have time to say that I love
being a Black girl but it is too
soon to say that it will always be
this way

 

*NOTE : This is an excerpt from the full poem Linea Nigra which will appear in Nikky Finney’s upcoming book Lovechild’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry, due to be published in 2019. The full version of the poem will appear in an upcoming print issue of Scalawag. To read the entire poem please subscribe.

  • About

    Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina by the sea. She was raised during the civil rights and black arts movements. She teaches at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.