we makin’ do,
in the fields, crushin’ backs,
sun, the color of dyin’ pearls —
Mama say, “mind ya mouth”
and I clamp my tongue,
stitch it shut befo’
Massa come and take
my flower, killin’ my youth.
I ain’t never seen this much cotton,
we toilin’ and pullin’, blisters
on my thumbs the size of Arkansas,
but I don’t complain.
Mama say, “hush up and do ya work,
chile. Noon’s quittin’ time.”
I hush up. I do my work.
I wait fo’ noon.
hooves walk by my head
mama pickin’, back bent
black scattered in field of white
cotton lookin’ like sky
full of cloud, hard
on our skin, hard
to fill a load, hard
to keep goin’
mama say, “make do, done come noon”
hummingbird buzz by, grab my sights
rifle and hooves come near, overseer
stealin’ my sun, i can’t complain
fingers snap, whispers like a whip
hit the wind. i know,
“mind my mouth. mind my ways”
go back to back bent, eyes to the land
i turn the cotton yellow, pink, with reds
honeysuckle vines and trees
drippin’ thick sap, sweetness to taste
flowers in the skies
no clouds of cotton, vines for hummingbirds
to land, tubes to drink from, ponds to bathe
overseer can’t see, no fields to pick
me and mama’ll play in the waters fo’ noon.
they come. they see. they want
us to do more work. noon here.
it’s time to go, but not now.
they say, “more work to be done”
and the sun’s peak ain’t their worry.
we get pulled by skirt-tails,
shucked like corn, and pushed
back into thorny waves,
cotton thick enough to make
I hover over the emptiness
of my bin, put my face into
its openin’, and let go
Mama see me, slap my hand,
tell me, “shape up! ain’t no
time for ailin’. Massa come,
see you losin’ your goodness,
we’ll all be in trouble.
and trouble, chile —
ain’t what we need.”
i pull myself to rights, get the mad outta me
wishin’ cotton to the winds, slaves up to the stars
givin’ body, doin’ what we must
pluckin’ til blood drips from the yoke.
mama’s eyes on me, i mind my ways
she smiles, nods toward the sky
hummingbird is back. mama hummin’
we pushin’ through, not knowin’
when we done. i keep pace.
the hummingbird, mama’s hum
black scattered in a field of white…