Saturday, March 22, 2008

Unmetered lines

Sometimes, anecdotes that people lived their lives by are often so strong that it sticks with you and would not let go until you try and free incipient emotions using forms of expression. In this case, it was unmetered lines that seemed to be the best and most expedient vehicle.

A story about the 20's I heard on the radio

Her grandmother was strong.
At 95 pounds, one would not say so - looking.
Picking cotton everyday makes one strong,
the hands, as well as the mind.

It was said, she could pick her weight
in cotton,
by the time the sun
was above their sweaty black heads
and the workers had rushed to their frugal lunches.
In the broad, sunny afternoons
of postbellum Alabama.

She did not smile too much,
and, could not wear fingernail polish.
The daily grind – a reason for the former (maybe),
The prevailing mores – explains the latter (for sure).
We are all a product of our circumstance – aren’t we?

She washed and ironed for a certain white lady
who wore perfumes and fingernail polish.
Nothing wrong, just like most white ladies
one finds relaxing indoors,
through those long, sunny afternoons
of postbellum Alabama.

It was said that one day,
the white lady did throw out,
some of her old perfumes and nail polish.
It was her anniversary and her husband
surprised her – with new trinkets.
You know, one has a lot to look out for,
if they were endowed with the right colors.

After a day of ironing (those starched white clothes),
our grandmother chanced
on some castoff perfumes and nail polish.
She dabbed the perfume (the few drops),
She did her fingernails,
Long thin strips of polish
over frayed nails,
long and ivoried, of lineage classic.
(Of course, she did make sure
she left enough
to spoil her another day).
Church that Sunday, she was radiant.

On Monday, she goes to the general store
(finally a day off).
Finding the bare minimums, she is
ready at the check out line,
the white owner asks her,
'What are you doing with your nails painted up?
Like a white woman'!!!
She is a little confused.

He glares, thoughts forming,
- maybe this was a chance to settle this.
He proceeds to pick up a pair of pliers
and slowly, methodically
pulled out the lady’s nails
out of its fleshy bed
one by bloody one.

Her fingertips, now with a strange,
permanent redness,
suffused over (once) long and ivoried nails,
does match the skies that sometimes visit
the broad, sunny afternoons
of postbellum Alabama.

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