Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 1



Sharon Browning


They Shot My Boyfriend

I’m at Wal-Mart. I no longer walk to aisle eight in Health and Beauty, no longer reach to the third shelf from the bottom to the fourth shelf tag from the left around the 25th of the month.

But……I remember

I remember the day they shot my boyfriend. The sun burned bright. Birds sang in the tree, an old mesquite standing twenty or thirty feet above the ground. I couldn’t get my arms about its trunk, the day they shot my boyfriend on the 25th of the month.

I remember his jokes. I chuckle now thinking how silly the punchlines were. ‘Would you like to get my coat, Tex?’ he’d say about the 25th of the month. Or, he would ask me if I wanted him to “part the Red Sea” before fingers found my heat during the month’s final week, usually right around the 25th of the month.

I remember how he would say MY NAME in whispers a few days before the 25th. I would pretend I hadn’t heard him. Then, he would take to shouting, adding Baby, Darling, Sweetheart to his unctuous supplication for my attention. I reverberated in his love, calling to me in wild wails that caused my secret place to seep before joining his echoes right about the 25th of the month.

I remember the songs he sang on our anniversary around the 25th of the month. The melody would begin fortissimo in a sharp staccato. It suited him. He never was one to deny his grandeur, and he so dearly loved playing and singing on the 25th of the month.

I remember, as I lost consciousness, smelling cotton candy in the ether, thinking how faithful my boyfriend had been all these years, celebrating our anniversary, which was almost always on the 25th day of the month.

It’s that way with black uteri
America’s source of economic power
Used to build this nation
with their black/white/black babies
Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton
Hung from trees on lush lands
of white houses, Mount Vernon,
Monticello and Ivy League universities,
their doppelgängers from sea to shining sea.
It’s that way with black uteri
Sterilized on the pretense of curbing
lubricious traits
(white men just can’t keep it in their pants)
Advanced gynecology from heinous
experimentations
Denied having tangible, perceptible pain
Go down Moses, Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go. Exodus—It’s gone.

Wake up. The doctor is here. I’ve got to listen.
What? What you say? Dead, you say?
Ain’t he never coming back? Yes. I’m sorry too.
A valiant fight? Did all you could. Do I have any pain?
No. He died knowing nothing about birthing babies.

I slump, look at the date on the wall. It’s the 25th.
Fitting that my boyfriend fought to stay with me.
Fitting that my boyfriend died on our anniversary.
I must accept my boyfriend, he ain’t never coming back.




Safe Harbor of White (Skin) Privilege

What is safety
when double-helix genes set on,
not off, pigments your skin
without consent, turns it
deeper than ivory, or cream,
or ecru, or simply
less than pale as moonlight.

In what harbor do you dock?
What harbor bids your peace?
Or, gives you shelter
has calm seas
waves rolling inbound,
one lulling the next.

What is safety when history
taught forgets the origin
is Africa, or near about,
and civilizations greater than
Greco-Roman and western European,
not limited to blond, blue eyes
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
evolved humanity toward divinity.

In what harbor do you dock?
What harbor bids your peace?
Or, gives you shelter
has calm seas
waves rolling inbound,
one lulling the next.

I look outside my window
safe harbors I see covered
in milk-white skin walking,
standing at any time, every time,
doesn’t matter what time.
No fear, no chokeholds,
no bullets in the back
moving without care
without worry of zip ties,
pat downs and strip searches
in the safety of their harbors.
So, I ask,
in what harbor do you dock
when skin abounds
in cephalopod ink
and the phrase,
“I was frightened,”
justifies any reaction
to seasickness
and headlines
“I feared for my life,”
justifies any reaction
to right a reeling ship.

What harbor bids your peace
when your schools and homes
brace for continual hurricanes,
families hunker down behind
iron doors while plywood-covered
windows disarrange your neighborhood.

What harbor bids your peace
fleeing gales carrying your PhD’s
in Maybachs and Mercedes
guilty of DWB on governor’s orders
evacuating in Brioni, Baccarat,
Louboutin and Brooks Brothers.

Yes, when you are black,
in what harbor do you dock?
What harbor bids your peace?
Or, gives you shelter
has calm seas
waves rolling inbound,
one lulling the next.

Where is it safe for you?



Ruby Davis in All Her Glory

11 a.m. and we take our seats
Tongues switch from earthly to spiritual talk
Fields of chapeaus sway in waves of holy words
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.

11 a.m. and precisely at 11:22 the rooster crows
from his seat in the third row
A man speaks to Elohim in tongues no one knows
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.

11 a.m. and precisely at 11:43, Sister Shirley will fall
Slain in the Spirit, hearing her Lord Jesus’ call
Prayerful hands clothed in white, gently lay her down
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.

11 a.m. and precisely at 12:00 Maxwell Waters
dances to the altar, skips to the left and
hops to the right then lays himself prostrate at the Cross
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.

11 a.m. and precisely at 12:28, hands will clap
a chorus of Hallelujah, Thank You Jesus will erupt.
Resounding, reverberating, repeating until the stones
cry out Jesus, You are Lord of All
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.

11 a.m. and somewhere along 1 pm or thereabouts
We’ll meet on the steps
Talk about who is dressed and who isn’t
Check out our shoes, our hats
Hugs and kisses abound
Subtle flirtations between the sexes
Prepare to resist sins and temptations
and, thus girded, we rejoin the world
Christ Southern Missionary Baptist Church.


Sharon Browning: "I began writing to fulfill my calling to bring the black woman protagonist to the forefront of the fantasy and science fiction genres and create stories that are inclusive of different ethnicities and nationalities. I have lived in Tucson, AZ for the past thirty years. I write poetry, short stories, novellas and essays. I am working on my first novel about a black woman, who, after surviving torture and imprisonment, seeks to become whole. Her quest takes her through romance, retribution, reconciliation and redemption."




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