Watch the smile slip from my face. As soon as I hit the blacktop, shock. Anger. Steamrolled by a white boy with secondhand shame. His daddy’s no good at hiding it though. Ain’t a secret. He’s probably said that word before. In the comfort of his own home, between his 3rd or 7th can of flat beer. And loud. Yells it at the TV. At his ex-wife’s photograph still on the wall. Grainy and split.
Crooked from the amount of times he throws his fist. When it lands on the boy, that’s just ‘cause of poor aim. Ain’t no difference between his mama and him. The only person that can love a man like that is his son. But his father wants him to know he has Black friends. Works with ‘em too. At least one. And he’s a good one. Not like them other thugs.
Listen to him boast about how racist he could be. From behind a locked door. His daddy says the reason he doesn’t have a job is because of “affirmative action.” The reason he kicked his daughter out is because of “miscegenation.”
Slickin’ this bull with the back of his tongue. Trash he’s heard on AM radio. Ain’t nobody saying affirmative action without talkin’ that same ol’ mess. Misc-what?
Do we still live in a country that’s pre-1967? Yes. Only time he can say that word is when he’s got the liquid courage.
And this white boy heard it, named me by it, shoved me for it, spit on me just to seal it in.
To make sure I don’t forget. I can still taste the pavement.
The way the soles of children’s shoes burn against the rubber mat. All discolored from chewed gum that lost its flavor. Tongue scalded. Knees scratched. Elbow bruised. Gums bled. And I still can’t move. How do I stand up? How can I lift my neck knowing the weight of his hatred for me?
Nobody’s watching now. Nobody’s looking. Everybody keeps playing. There’s no time to stop swinging or sliding. Not for some little Black girl. For some little [redacted]. That word.
I won’t forget it. I know better than to repeat it. Can’t say it out loud. Ain’t heard it before. Won’t claim it. So I shrink. It was never mine. Never.
Watch the smile stretch across his face. Teeth lined up perfectly. Without any dentistry. As soon as I look up, silence. Amusement. Embarrassed by a Black girl whose “bark is bigger than her bite.” What did I say this time? What did I do?
Did I count all the way to 10? Or skip a number? Will I grow up to be older than 10? Or die young because of my color?
He wants a reason to hit me again. He wants a reason to be my friend.
He wants. He wants. He wants. Why can’t they just let us live?
White boy says, because . . .
If they can say it, why can’t I? It’s just a joke. You’re not like them, you know. Them. Those people. You’re different. You might as well be white.
Do you know who your father is? Do you know who my father is? Do you bleed a darker red?
Why are your lips so big? Why is your nose so big? Why is your hair so big?
You’re pretty for a Black girl.
He hit you ‘cause he likes you. ‘Cause his mama wasn’t there. ‘Cause his daddy–For a Black girl. For a little [redacted].
I won’t forget it. I can still taste the pavement.
Denise Nichole, MFA, is the Editor in Chief of The Hellebore Press and Founder of HUES. She teaches and resides in Sacramento, CA with her best friend. She enjoys lavender lattes, wide leg jeans, and a heavy bass line. Recent poetry and photography can be found in Parentheses Journal and Hooligan Mag. For tender tweets and affirmations follow her at @DNicholeAndrews.
Photography by: Maarten Deckers