Getty Images

A ship on midnight waves, the dry land unseen. And scattering about the deck, apparitions of the oaks that birthed it, oaks murdered by Man and his ax and his vision for a vessel.

Ship on liquid cobalt, bones on its floor. Her captors were blind to the journey’s length, to earth our mother, and the welling storm.

Lightening strikes the tumbling flag. The crew in pursuit of their tails. You sweet child, abandoned in chains, rise with wrinkled brow.

Whisper, “Is this an omen?”

Gaze left and right. See the key beside the dead man? Reach out, trace the shape, find the cavity in its center, the oval head on stick body.

Break loose. Ponder the great men fall, demise on the royal vessel. Saunter to plank’s edge. Jump, into the black, the swirling blue turmoil, gravity propelling you forward, oh wingless fowl, ephemerally sustaining as life itself.

A moment and then the crash. Graze the water’s seal. Pass through its portal to dark places of solitude and quiet. Head first. Neck. Clavicle. Water proceeds with momentum to the torso, legs, and feet.


The voices above are mere muffles. Plunge through phases of depth. Breath exits the lungs, spills into salty atmosphere.

Whisper, “So little am I.”

Bubbles emerge from nose and mouth. Your open eyes marvel at the sight. An octopus floats by, a school of fish, a whale. All seem to say,

welcome and goodbye


Mama was a feminist. She never read Jane Austen, marveled at Sojourner. She never knew what it’s like to be loved with more than a half-heart.

Mama was a black feminist. She’s gone. When she was living she’d interrogate everything. Aunt Jemima’s headscarf was my first lesson.

“But why baby girl? Why she gotta wear a hair scarf? Why she gotta be a second-hand woman? I aint never in my whole life seen a grown ass black woman, with any kinda self respect, walk around with a trifling hair scarf on her head–lessin it was for religious reasons and Aunt Jemima was not religious. Aunt Jemima wasn’t no Malcolm X-marching woman. She wasn’t no Farrakhan lady. She was raised in the church.”

Ok Mama.

“She grew up with the hymns. She was damn beautiful, what she was. Skin smooth, like a baby’s. Right good cheekbones, high like in the magazines. Gleaming white teeth. Was she lonely? That why she had to wear that raggedy thing on her head? She was lonely, needed to get some. That’s all that was. She needed to get some you know. Did she touch herself? Cause if her man, if Aunt Jemima’s man was out there in them streets. If he was no good and in the streets while she was home rearing the youngins,  she shoulda touched herself. Shoulda went up them stairs, locked that door, and just touched herself.”

This conversation would last all the way through dinner.

“But why they had to put her in that scarf?”

After dinner and after-after dinner.

“But why they had to put her in that hair scarf? They did this to Uncle Ben too. Uh huh. Had him in some servant ware. Had him in some white get-up with a smile. What the hell he smiling for?”

After After After dinner.

“But why they had to?” . . .

I’m a black feminist. I don’t wonder about Jemima’s scarf. Not anymore. Mama made pancakes Sunday morning, pours syrup on top of butter. I sit there eating, looking at Jemima, and that damn scarf. Never wondered what she might be thinking. Never thanked her for her willingness to give of herself, her maple flavored syrupiness.

No, no I just ate, tossed her to the side, threw the plate in the sink, turned off the lights, left her in the dark, smiling, gazing at nothing.


Children weep enough to flood.

Sacred places stained with blood.

Vultures have much to eat.

Demons sit on golden seats.


Curves seep through triangles, squares, earth-mimicking lines. Raven pupils emerge from the nakedness. Protruding breasts, an armor.

Their nipples like unto knives. Infants weaned on the threatening edge. No lust-driven charmer satiated. A Masked Woman hides in the corner. A good girl like mother said, she won’t look you in the eye.

“Perhaps something awful will happen,” she thinks, “perhaps I’ll crumble.”

The Plain One, bright-eyed, could never sit still. Won’t cross her legs when company comes over.

“I hate tights!” She declares at seven. “I hate you!”

And mother, a fragile thing back then, excuses herself to the powder room, weeps for half an hour, then returns to the dinner table

polished and smiling.

Copyright. © 2015 Rebecca Nichloson. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the creator.