The Reminder

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
You stand jeering as we walk down the road.
We’re homeward bound, hand-in-hand.
The long day presses down on our eyelids,
our bones are heavy, minds fermenting.
You hiss as though we stand on podium
to stun you with cheap stage tricks.
As if we intend to dismantle your reality,
confound you with sleight of hand.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
That is not our aim.
We only seek home as you rise, clapping.
We ignore it, ignore you.
It happens.
Two young girls content together,
not in our skin - but with each other?
We’re magnets; we attract attention.
An amalgamation of praise and condemnation.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
You jeer, buzzing. Eyeing me as though
I’m a carcass on your butcher's slab.
Your lip curls. Poison spills:
Go on, girls!
The white and black minstrel show!

You cackle, celebrate your own filthy wit
as though you’re not hacking at skin
it has taken decades, centuries, to heal.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
My girlfriend has hearing difficulties,
asks me to repeat your revelation .
I parrot your indictment verbatim.
She angers, swells,
ignited fire sparking off her tongue.
She knows me intimately:
knows I cannot anger as she does,
knows the shards will sit rotting inside me.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
By morning you will have forgotten us.
Men like you get to spit this bile,
to coat the world in venom, before dreaming on.
The young jezebel, the not-quite mammy?
She spends the evening spiralling, vomiting,
purging a sickness you’ve inspired.
Tomorrow, you can don any skin you wish.
The little nigger girl will always be brown.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
You have wounded me.
Stripped me of my personhood
as efficiently as your ancestors did mine.
Your bruises will bloom under my skin
inside a cancerous cavity.
A weeping pit where wounds reside,
collaborating and preparing to
swamp me on crawling desolate nights.

Stumbling drunk snarling man.
We just wanted to get home.
Instead, you have reminded me
of bruised, distorted fact.
A lesson repeated in my skin:
You are the chameleon-skinned white man.
And me?
I’ll always be that unnatural nigger,
a grown picaninny taking too many liberties.