Sonya Renee Taylor

Two Poems from A Little Truth on Your Shirt

by Sonya Renee Taylor

First Books II, Summer 2011


Once when baking a cake
in clumsy haste, I dropped an entire carton of eggs on the floor.
The 12 infant orbs leapt from the styrofoam container like
tiny suicide bombers, colliding with the linoleum
in a slow motion waltz of misfortune.

I had, just seconds before the impending calamity,
taken one loose egg out of the fridge,
placed him on the counter.
Karma kissed,
he became the lone survivor of his clan,
escaping the splattered fate of a dozen others.
The only egg undamaged.

My grandmother was 1/4 fire-tongued gypsy,
1/4 sugary cake-baking lady, and all the rest
Snapping peas and knee caps with lightning ferocity,
she kept close company with the fifth of vodka tucked in her bed,
having years before evicted granddad to the nearby lazy-boy recliner.

alittletruthonyourshirtRound, with frail little coffee stirrers for legs,
she made me laugh jaw clenched hearty
like grandmothers should.
With witticisms bluer than a Pryor stand-up routine,
grandma was a marvel of a mess.
The kind of mess that happens when
clumsy people don’t handle fragile things

She bore 13 children to an angry man
who tongue kissed her with iron shovels
and a cement heart.
8 boys and 5 girls
handsome and pretty and unlucky.

The number 13 seems to call misery
like a drunken ex-lover at 3 am.
So it was no surprise when the phone rang.
Ike her 5th eldest boy,
a 20-year-old miscreant in the midst of a misdemeanor
twice through the heart.
Splattered on the sidewalk of a neighbor’s home.
The first useless yolk.

Richard the 4th eldest boy
loved white women in the 1970s
in a way that left only one thing certain
about the rape charges.
He would serve the full 25.

Calvin Jr., 2nd boy,
the one that made all the folks on the block
say, “Irene, girl, you spit him out!
Ain’t a bit of big Calvin in ’em”
caught the backwash of her vodka at twelve, sipped
until his liver looked just like his daddy’s fist.
Lani, 2nd eldest girl
followed suit.

Gerald schizophrenic.
Joyce bipolar major depressive.
Ronnie, Raymond, Danny,
Gary, Edna, Terry,
all inhaled ten dollar diamonds until
lot babies and anonymous blow jobs
shaved their bones thin as shells.
A dozen cracked lives.

The final egg avoided the slippery hands of fate
for so long,
Grandma believed she’d actually saved her.
Just one.

Perhaps plucked from the carton seconds before
the violent collision of poverty and blackness;
dreams pressed so tight
the pulp bleeds right out of them
spilled her like the rest.
The only one to finish high school.
The “She doing good for herself” girl.
All us offspring of the tortured twelve
looked on in admiration.
Whispered ’bout our auntie
dressed to the nines.

None of us really knew the anatomy of an egg.
How the fondle of filthy fingers
thins the porous skin of it.
How misleading the notion of
“solid” is.
How it speaks little to fact that the inside
of an egg has long been dead.

On occasion, God
in all His gorgeous backbiting mercy
spares us the open hand smack
of arrogance.

So it was,
bald and blind and filled with cancer
died before she would have to witness Ruthie stuff
the forty dollar rent money she trusted only her to pay
inside the deep holes,
let the crack man begin to excavate
until the Sheriff padlocked the doors.
Placed 8 decades of whatever we could salvage,
the shells of 13 eggs,
on a project curb for the vultures to pick.

Grandma is a decade-old memory now, but I wish I could tell her
I smelled vanilla on my mother’s breath the day of her
7-year clean anniversary.
The over seems to always be heating
when I visit my now-sober aunt Ruthie.
She tells me she has started baking again,
uses Grandma’s recipes.
I ask her how they’ve been turning out,
the cakes.
She says she hasn’t quite gotten the recipe perfect yet,
as she takes the eggs from the fridge,
places them on the counter
without the slightest quiver of hand.
I smile,
wink at a shadow in the corner with coffee stirrer legs.
Tell me auntie,
I have a feeling this time she will.



Syllable I

Perhaps she is from a small village in India.
I imagine her forcing the thick stutter of my name
bound and gagged through thirty-five years of Hindi language,
marching it to the front of her mouth.
She wills it to hang itself on the tip of her tongue.
Her hesitations apprise me of its disobedience;
my name retreats to the back of her throat.

She grabs it again.
Spits it out like semen,
angry that it has come there packaged in outsourced
American corporate call centers,
wages lower than family’s caste,
but the correct pronunciation of my name means 30 rupee a day,
kidney treatment for her father this week. So she will learn to say it.
I cannot hate her.

In her mouth I am a hurricane
of young privileged consumption.
Maybe the venom in her voice when she asks,
“Soooo-nya, why haven’t you paid the bill!”
is the hiss of double standard.
The toxic serpent of class.
My name is just another on a long list of silly children
playing grown-up in the deep plastic pockets of credit card companies.
While she does not knowme,
she knows me and my name
mean nothing when she leaves this place.
Syllable II

My mother would be livid
with this long vowel OOO
people conveniently place in between S and N.
“I named you S-ahn-ya! People need to call you
I oblige only when she is present.
My name is all fried chicken, criticism,
and Pentecostal churches
rolling in her mouth
like a Black girl’s neck.
A decade and a half of things
she would do over
if the universe were as forgiving
as daughters.

It is hiccup snagged on a nail biting worry
that one of my many flights will
plummet toward the Pacific.
A hungry heron.
Old girlfriends trade secrets between the syllables.
I wonder if she knew it meant wisdom
when she gave it to me? This inheritance
from a broken deposit box in her chest
where the letters have been training not to
crack under the weight of guilt.
Placed beside each other intentionally,
hoping to spell out a life void of
some dirty amn’s hands in my panties.

My name sounds like
Pomp and Circumstance
when she says it to friends.
It is a belch induced from swallowing the tassel
from my cap and gown.
My mother has a strange palate for pride.
I indulge her appetite.
As always,
hope it tastes sweet going down.
Syllable III

Shhh…Whisper it
like someone might detect your attempt to slide the panties
back on the A, button the bra crookedly
around S’s curves.

Lest someone discover the pretense
the back story.
that you just finished licking the letters.

Each syllable pants between your lips,
a pack of thirsty leopards.
Sweat drips off the O.
N unzips itself, slow.
Y poses like a pin-up girl in mid-air.
All of them wink a naughty eye,
acquainted with your plans
for them later.

Never liked the lack of crackle
in my name but
it puckers on your tongue.
Independence Day firecrackers.
I want to buy you a parkler,
an ice cream cone and a flag
when you say it.

This stop sign parents hung around my neck
sounds like a State of the Union address
delivered from your Oval Office mouth.
Intently, I am tuning in
certain that something important is being said.

Oh, it’s just my name.

But you make me listen.
You make me listen and
love it.


GirlChild Press is a feminist press based in DC that publishes exceptional voices of women and girls. Reprinted by permission.

Sonya Renee Taylor is the founder and Radical Executive Officer of The Body is Not An Apology, an international movement and organization committed to radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation. Taylor is a former national and international poetry slam champion, author, educator and activist. She was named one of Planned Parenthood's 99 Dream Keepers in 2015, a Planned Parenthood Generation Action 2015 Outstanding Partner awardee, and one of the 12 Women Who Paved the Way for Body Positivity by Bustle Magazine in September 2015. Taylor’s work has been featured on HBO, BET, MTV, TV One, NPR, PBS, CNN, and Oxygen Network, as well as in The New York Times, New York Magazine,,, Huffington Post, Vogue Australia,, and Ms. Magazine. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Split This Rock and on the Board of Directors for SisterSong. She is also actively engaged in the movement for Black Lives and the Anti-Police Terror Project in Oakland, CA.