Simone John is a poet, educator, and facilitator based in Boston, MA. Since completing her MFA at Goddard College, Simone has devised youth poetry workshops that explore hip hop culture and poetry as a form of protest. Her poetry and essays have been published online and in print in The Pitkin Review, Wildness, and The Writer in the World. Her first full-length poetry collection, Testify, is forthcoming from Octopus Books in 2017.
Cat Call Season: an Ars Poetica for Ashy Larry(s)
My poems ain’t here to look cute for you
My poems never learned to fix their face
flirt with the leering audience
If you talk to my poems, know that they
talk back. You been warned. Know
they’ll call you out your name so loud
and so quick you will go to sleep with
my poems still cursing in your ears
My poems aren’t scared of you
even when they’re outnumbered
even when they should be
My poems are built from every swear
my mother pinched my neck for saying
daring me to speak her Lord’s name in vain
My poems are teflon, so your hotep
hollas don’t stick
My poems swerve at the sight
of your gold tooth gleaming
My poems will ask you to your face
Ain’t you somebody’s uncle?
Don’t you have some place to be?
My poems don’t give a fuck
And if you don’t understand
my poems will speak in
clap-talked split syllables
I grew up nursed on curse words.
All the soap in the world couldn’t wash
Mattapan out of my daddy’s mouth.
Corner boy slang steeped at sea
in a Navy stint to set him straight.
My DNA is explicit. Coded in ampersands
and asterisks. Semi-colons and dollar signs.
An origin story with missing pieces
blurry if you look too close.
My mother tongue is spoken between
gritted teeth full of phrases like:
This motherfucker right here!
Ain’t that about a bitch!
and sometimes my poems need to say some shit.
I cannot not say nigga. All my words have edges
and I am built of too many sharp corners.
I am undeterred by your wincing
unwilling to change my tone. I grew up
never knowing how to hold my tongue.
On June 14, 2014, Jason Harrison, a mentally ill black man was shot to death by police after his mother called 9-1-1 poetrypoetfor assistance in bringing him to the hospital.
After the fifth shot was fired
After his body slumped in the doorway
After his mother screamed, They killed my child
for the second time. After blood bloomed
Rorschach blots on his white tee, an officer
asks, He’s still alive—should we cuff him?
The video lingers on a near-lifeless man
mouth moving like a trout on land.
I wonder what the cops see
when they look at him. How is it possible
to watch a man die in his own driveway
and still perceive a threat?
Beyond the frame, there is a mother
who looks at this man and sees birthday
parties. Christmas mornings. A boy
born imbalanced. How quickly the fear
that made her call the police
grew to a fear for her son’s life.
Four decades of motherhood
reduced to writhing on concrete.
A cop calls for back up.
He was coming at us, he says
aware of the camera on his uniform.
We had to shoot.
Prisons widow our women like the grim reaper.
Grandma with no sons to speak of waiting
at the window for the ride to arrive. Carry her
to South Bay Correctional to visit her grandson’s ghost.
Her block is occupied by armed forces.
Her address book filled with phone numbers
for other widows. Their husbands all decades dead.
Sending meager checks from beyond the grave.
Each widow raising someone else’s child.
Each child orphaned by similar circumstance.
If I called her something other than nana
called her soldier’s wife, army mom
said her sons were stolen by war
would her grief matter to you?
When combat wipes out generations of men,
what is left of the women who outlive them?
When husbands and sons and grandsons are gone
who comes back to pull the mothers from the rubble?