[Poem in Progress] Brown Girl Mixtape

Track 1: “Gaze,”by Sweetback, feat. Amel Larrieux (1996). Squeeze your hand into a fist. Now, loosen, just a bit. They say that is the heart, heat, fiber, sugar. Cut around its core, score and invert. Take your teeth to its golden flesh and bite. They say this is the heart of a lovely girl. In these stories, there is always a girl, lovely as that dream just before waking. There is always a girl, whose dainty feet make light where she toe taps the earth, so soft. Elders tell her patience will saint her. And so she waits. There is always heartbreak, chambers washed in longing, pulsing dark inside the body. She waits. They say she waited with the waning moon, until the dawn. She waited. Press your index finger and tall finger into the underside of your jawbone, and count.

Track 2: “My Life,” Mary. J. Blige (1994). Those long days we burned white sage, filled our small spaces with lavender and sunlight. Those days of such love thirsty brown girls, aching, unslaked. How do you fill a vessel of want. Those days always on the edges, looking into others’ tidy white lives. When we subsisted on tea and nicotine, when our belongings, mostly poem-filled notebooks, fit neat into milk crates. Those days of interloping, staring out bus windows, hoping. If you look long at those days, you will see so much unmet grace.

Track 3: “Ice Age,” How to Destroy Angels (2012). There is always a brown girl who knows exactly how to open up the walls and disappear. We know this is easy as breathing on a cool day. We know how to pluck music from the air, and how to pluck away grays. We know how to wait for ocean to rise, cold salt and tide, how to bury, and how to build fire. We know how to strip away noise, pulse, and subside. From barely a whisper, we can hold a pure note high. There is always a brown girl who knows how to find a way.

Track 4: “Orange Moon,” Erykah Badu (2000). We are always the light. How good it is to be this sweet, smoldering light. How good it is, to be this sun setting fire to the bay, gleaming off glass, diamonds before the dusk. Girl, we are gems cut so keen and fine. How we cut. How we hum honey, open the lungs, the throat, and our song a chorus of praise and day. We glimmer so bright. How good it is, to be so bright, to pay no mind to those who don’t abide, so many who would dull our shine.

Track 5: “Drop,” Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions (2001). What are the things that tear up your language, all that has made you bite your tongue to be bloodless. Drop them all, stone by stone and resound. Tune your vocal chords, slough away the layers of white noise. The sting when exposed anew. Smooth the creases in your voice’s scraps and crumpled pages, soothe and strum. Sometimes, when we hear a murmur, a hum, we forget that is us. Sometimes, the throat is tender as waking for Sunday morning mass.

Track 6: “Julia,” Emm Gryner (1999). How to unforget all we’ve been made to stuff back into our darkest places.We know the heart heals with time, and that bruises heal too. We know how to leave a boy who hurts with words or closed fists. We know how to ghost a boy who does not even deserve our ghost. We know how to change numbers and locks, and that sometimes behind a bolted door, the only thing that will keep us company is a good record collection. We remember not to say sorry. We know some boys do not deserve a proper good-bye.

[Four more tracks to go.]

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