We passed by them sitting on stoops,
brick-black kings slant on steps
on Sunday evenings after church.
Stories flew dap fast; tales, dipped in copper-
tongued slang, caught my young ears.
I listened to their breathin’
black cotton, praisin’ honey suckle phat,
reminiscin’ about F-body Camaros;
smoke curled to words, hands gripped brown
bag, laughter changed to them fighting words,
changed to sho you right motherfucka,
changed to Barkley Jordan Ewing Wanda
down the block, changed to fuck them niggaz,
changed to nana chanting Psalms 32:7, conjuring
the holy spirit to protect us from bad men.
Bible verses weighed down the air;
Nana’s hand gripped mine as we walked
down the block back to her home. She told
me to never talk to them. When we got home,
my father, granddady and uncle Rodney sat front-stoop
style, laughing like them other kings. When nana walked
up the steps, granddaddy followed and my father
followed soon after. Uncle Rodney disappeared down the block.
Growing Up DC: Requiem
“they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
and I keep on remembering mine”
― Lucille Clifton
In the nation’s capital big chairs were made
for giants and monuments were made for gods.
Hinckley sat in St. Elizabeths and across the street
Aunt Rena cooked Cream of Wheat for Uncle George
in her first floor apartment off Martin Luther King Ave.
In the alley, another somebody jumped.
Away from the columns with acanthus
leaves and the labyrinth of working masses
she’s movah to three kids she walks to the bus
stop erry morning to take one of her girls
to half-day kindergarten
she sings she has six inch nails
has yaki thick dreams
wants to sit in the Big Chair
wants to be a monument
When growing up, fascinated with mountains,
volcanoes, monuments, ruins, and planets,
my fascination with landscapes and landmasses
was both earthly and otherworldly.
My mind, my neighborhood, my house
or apartment, linked to some mountainous place
perched so high I could see everything;
I could imagine all things;
Most times trying to find rock
footholds not meant for climbing,
yet sometimes climb the grassy side,
admiring peeks and valleys, mud, looking
sky, cityscape oblivious. Monuments
had no meaning, capitals, what I learned
about in school, and chocolate city was a black hole,
go-go, bamas-better-not-play birth home
where no one but us wanted life. I remember a where
where ground swallowed people but left their heads
just enough above ground so they could breathe.
Kateema Lee is a Washington, DC native. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in the African American Review, Gargoyle, and PMS: Poem Memoir Story. She is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, a Callaloo fellow, a participant of The Home School Conference, and she has a chapbook, Almost Invisible, forthcoming from Aldrich Press later this year.