In Search of Black Birds
The Mason Boys’ sneakers crunched against rusted leaves
as the dying rat beat against the plastic bag. They pushed its writhing body
away from theirs, dropped it into a dumpster & rushed upstairs
to soap their hands, each flicking death water on each other’s eyelids.
“Boys, c’mon in here & get these pancakes!” said Mama: not fat & aproned,
a chef in a silk dress who watched CNN, skipped Sunday church sessions,
smoked NewPort100s & kissed the wrinkles on her sons’ foreheads.
Their pre-pubescent mouths gulped & slurped syrup. They later asked to back-flip
in the corners of a gardenless backyard, jumped the black fence instead,
into the grime of an alley in search of black birds.
The crimson, off-white & blue blues cop car sped onto the potholes
of Jefferson Street. “Betcha I can run faster than that car” Malcolm Mason bid.
“Nuh Uhn, I can.” Martin Mason declared. Their black raced, heaving.
Thighs like boulders, bulging. Martin Mason scooped up woodchips & rock,
teasingly hurled them at his brother. A pebble thwarted, pounced against
the car window. The cops drove faster.
Mama, with two gray crinkled curls at the front of her afro poked her head
out of her window. The streetlight was a dusty orange glow: spiders
& mosquitoes smashed & electrified inside. Their darkened dead bodies dimmed
the street. Mama tipped her cigarette into a white ashtray, crossed her legs
near the window & inhaled the smoke.
She thought about the silk slip her Grandma Hattie told her to wear beneath skirts.
The crossed legs. How to be a proper woman raised amongst improper men.
Most midnights when the boys feigned sleep, she wore silk lavender skin-tight dresses,
6-inch heels, mascara & blonde wigs. Men touched her bare arms at bars. She danced
with them & returned home to scrape egg from her own skillet.
The Mason boys ran behind the bushes, they ran behind the willowed trees. They ran
into a pit bull who barked & howled. Their fright, almost found. They ran
inside their skin, inside the black where they were rabbits. A black bird hovered
above the tree branches where they shivered a shhh from the sweat of their skin.
The black bird beat his wings wildly with the wind. Inside the black, their boyhood hid.
Nina Simone blared from Mama’s window. “Just two more plays. Boys will be boys,”
she thought. A hooker with missing front teeth & deep burgundy lipstick stopped
in front of her gate. She slow danced by herself, arms wrapped around her back
as if she was in the arms of a lover. “You jamming up there girl!” the hooker yelled
up to the second floor. Mama studied her aloneness like a recipe.
by Ciara Miller
Ciara Miller, a native of Chicago, is a poetry MFA candidate and an African American/African Diaspora Studies MA candidate at Indiana University. She has published academic essays and poems in such collections and periodicals as Callaloo, SLC Review, Alice Walker: Critical Insights, PLUCK, Chorus, Toegood Poetry, Cave Canem Anthology XII, African American Review, and Blackberry Magazine.