A Poem: Set

I offer this in deep respect and gratitude to Carrie Mae Weems and her journey to completing this piece. Her conviction to bear witness to the Black experience inspired these words. I was drawn to it because of the way text was used to over the image; and began to explore the way words have and continue to shape the narrative of oppressed people.

Set

Set.
Decided.
Grounded as a stone’s belly.

I have been named!
Designated with steel resolve
And bloody whip

Before a crowd.
In a book.
On a slab.
In a laboratory of cruel strangers.
Before my mother’s mother was a babe

I am the supply bred for demand
For beck and call
For sport and feast.
For pontification and jest
For leverage of the least.

You constructed me
From an economy of lust
Stripped me of agency
Assigned me the sole task
Of function
Work horse. Harvester. Pacifier.
Scapegoat. Wet nurse.
On call companion. On call mistress.
Carpenter. Blacksmith.
I was a fucking footrest!

Because of the labels.
Murder cloaked in science
A taxonomy to support the sickness,
A cancer turned birth defect.

You selected me for submission
to interrogation

Front. Side.
Laid out. Bent over.
Split open.
Spread eagle.
Restrained. Infected.
Observed. Probed.

To identify, classify, specify
The root of my inferiority;
To rationalize a brutality
So utterly shameful
Your offspring refuse to claim it.

You found my predisposition
to endure,
an orientation towards servitude,
without considering it was God’s gift
And not yours.
Jettisoned my humanity to feed
Your allure for dissection,
Rationalizing depravity
In the interest of public good.

It’s them labels.
Designations free from spirit but
Fueled by White power plays
That still slice this earth
Like I once sliced sugar cane
Baby sleep on my back.

I conceded. We conceded.
My feet remain soaked

in the labels
I step softly in and out of

the boxes you’ve created
To spare myself pain,
Spare myself lashes
Stay out the hot box
Keep breathing.
Keep awake
Stay woke.

So persistent and acute is
The pathology of your qualifiers
My great great great grandchildren will
Own the compass through this land
They too will walk through the minefield
of your labels
Dodging implications and hate
As best they can.

Those god damned labels!
They are born to yearning;
The bastard child of desperation.

You put a word behind the wheel
Declared it law
Drove my legacy into a homespun
Springboard for separatism.

The labels have taught your children
Entitlement to me
and to mine

my thoughts, my body, my prayer
my hope, my dance, my hair

as if my pilgrimage from
Mali to Maputo
to Middle Passage to Mississippi to Mobile
to Missouri to Minneapolis to Miami
Is a story woven for your consumption
You, always at the center,
Feeding on me.
Just feeding on me.

This is not behind you or I
This is still us
This addiction to labels
for the good of
the pale and favored.

We have settled

Into the grooves

Of this dimension

 

We live in deference

to the labels.

 

the seduction of security

restricts and relents

able hearts from disrupting

 

from choosing

to know me outside of the labels

Freedom can’t ring

In a house of lies

You can’t taste my truth

In a big

Bowl of conditions

 

We will roar and ring around this clock again

and again, and again and again

because the love doesn’t really matter when

what you say ain’t what you mean.

And what you speak

ain’t really who you see.

Freedom is choice

That manifests

In self and wealth

I don’t need your privilege

To navigate my own.

 

Freedom is a life

Without labels.