African Children in the “Projects” of Nebraska (circa Summer 2002)
On the occasions our mother let us play outside in the mud—
we knew to dedicate an entire day to the affair.
the faraway look in her eyes always meant a few golden hours for us. she’d just watch us wordlessly from the kitchen window.
and although I wondered what she was working out in her head, my 8-year-old self selfishly enjoyed my freedom too much to ask.
Once outside, the limited patch of lawn in front of our unit became the transporting station for my siblings and me.
no longer were we surrounded by the concrete and brick compounds—each fashioned with a T-shaped clothes line on their patches of grass. From the corner of “T street” (our address) the clothes lines looked like capital “T” crosses in a field.
I needed to know what was under the land.
Our excavation process was a mostly silent operation; we would exhaust ourselves digging up dirt and mixing it with water until it filled our mother’s mopping bucket with smooth dark brown/red clay.
my big sis (11), little bro (6) and I (8), instead worked diligently to envelope ourselves in our mud concoctions.
then we’d admire how the dark brown red mud sat atop our charcoal skin and on our clothes.
it eventually caked its way into our pores and left patterns we could later decipher.
And only when the Omaha sun became unrelenting, or the humid air would make way to humid rain, would we seek refuge under the damp tree in front our unit’s front door.
as if summoned, our mother would emerge from the kitchen, holding the screen door open wide, a small grin on her face. She wasn’t even mad when she saw us.
our father wasn’t home.
She’d just tell us to shower quickly.
we didn’t complain or discuss our travels with each other, but we knew we had all journeyed well. There was still soil trapped underneath our fingernails and humid air lodged itself somewhere deep in our lungs.
The raindrops also forced the Nuer, Black, and Latin children in our compound, who were well acquainted with the outdoors, to retreat.
my siblings and I smirked and gasped as we listened to them trade profanities as if they were treasured Pokémon cards.
their mothers were always within earshot, but their voices would only halt on the telephone wires to remind their children lock the door—lest they wanted crickets in the living room.
If such words had slipped from our mouths, our Anuak mother would have given us small sized and rapid fire pinches (landing in the same spot no less) until we began to believe the feeling was instead a melancholy note carried on a violin string.
I’d continuing to watch those children from the second-floor window of our unit—
even as the smell of our mother cooking okra with cumin, curry, and kwuhn wafted up the stairs to mine and my sister’s room.
At 7 pm, we’d be nestled around the small TV in our room. Saturdays meant there was bound to be something good on PBS.
My sister would use a piece of gum wrapper and our lone wire hanger as an antenna when the screen showed static.
My little brother would sit on the floor and try to align his eyeballs with that of the character on screen, and my older sister always had to snatch him a few feet backwards.
We would always let out a collective shriek when the screen flashed a familiar image of a red headed girl named Anne from Green Gables. Then we’d wait until we could hear our mother singing Anuak gospel songs before we raced downstairs.
After the day I’d had:
Child, am I tired, or am I tired?
Today, as I was drudging up my stairs—I stepped on the cheap wine bottle I’d just bought.
It was on accident, but a tear escaped when I saw the last bit of drink trickle to the floor.
For several moments, I contemplated lapping it up without fear of the shattered glass.
And after the day I’d had at work.
God may want me to stop drinking, and I’m okay with that. I can fight in other ways. Right?
Then I rushed back to my driveway to lock my car just as a cute guy walking his dog passed by.
I smile briefly pressed against my lips, but didn’t dare touch my soul.
My eyes were soon downcast again.
Am I tired? Child, I really am.
Muma, I love you
More than the stars above.
You are always reminding me that God can hear me, and the destroyer is a liar.
Even when I am about to roll my eyes on the phone, I stop and think.
New challenges can defeat me not; my heart has endured stronger storms than this.
‘It is never too late for God to do something in your life. Believe in what you love,’ she says.
Simple words, but they’ve fortify my armor.
I am not too too… too… too…, to be loved be—loved by me.
It’s as if racism follows and finds me everywhere I go.
Because it is everyone I go.
It is ushered along by everyone white. many of them I know personally.
Whether it be done sub/consciously, it be done.
Stabilizing state of mind
a well-intentioned friend once asked me if I was okay.
You know, that question truly puzzles me because I don’t have a definite answer.
Am I okay?
I’ve woken up in a state of:
Alarm—tears not knowing where it was safe to land on my face.
In this current state of the world, a drop of a hat is enough to send my insides quivering.
No one can tell that when I am alone—my hands tremble on their own.
I have to focus and be completely still if I am to fight it.
Am I okay?
Vivid images flash across my eyelids as fast as the shutter of camera.
I blink away the dream, though they feel frighteningly close and once very real.
The healing process isn’t without pain, though this time I will walk without shame.
Am I okay?
Who's really to say?
‘Mulitiple Settings: 1 Black Woman’
When my sentiments attempt to verbalize that I am drained from having to always fight for my humanity,
They cock their heads to the side and give me a baffled stare: “how and in what ways?” inebriated
Their whiteness proceeds them.
They cannot imagine what is like to live in this skin.
It’s quite easy to come to what I call a ‘white women consensus’
When the Black woman’s voice is fading away—
When her soul is exhausted from exertion to no avail
No full recognition in/from the group (of white women, herself being the only one possessing melanin)—
They are patting themselves on the back, as you internally squirm.
This Black woman asks herself:
‘how much am I allowed to stir this boat in one day?
Will they even hear me when again I speak?’
Poem # 3:
White women often give each other passes,
Wipe off each other’s lashes,
Some compete, defeat, but compare notes when playing against
When they are so kind to acknowledge the ‘others’ who also carry vaginas as ‘women’
(not in their sense, but in another way, surely, another way),
They don’t see our presence and auras,
Our determination laced with the horror
Inflicted upon us by them, their men, our men, our brothers, our fathers, our sisters, our mothers, ourselves.
The world is like several monsters to the Black woman.
We must defeat these beasts to claim what is rightfully OURS.
Though our voices strain, hands tire, spirits ache—
By continuing to EXIST, Black women are surely doing the Lord’s work.
The well within me runs deep.
It flows with the imagination of the cardamom sun,
Enveloping my dream in hog’s ears,
Ruffling my tale with fairy dust dipped in fuchsia petals.
But the claws you sunk into my shoulder
wish to endanger me in the midst
of all my splendour.
Those darkened cuticles threatened to turn
my stream to hail.
You wish to cloak me in all your shame
But I won’t ever play your game.
The goosebumps outlining my frame are the only remnants
that sadness once seeped into me through a hidden valve
they make my think my hearts been broken all my life.
I’m taking back the diamonds you’ve smuggled
Through your veins.
I’m taking back my freedom and adorning it with a new name.
you have no right to terrorize me—
to make me feel small.
to hurt and haunt me—
to make me believe it's my fault.
don’t you dare attempt to rip open these wounds…
I'm still working overtime
to dress them properly.
I pray they heal one day soon.
So you have no right to ask me for an explanation—
to disrupt my present existence.
you put me through hell, and I narrowly escaped the flames.
the smoke remains etched under my skin,
and I hope this morbid tattoo fades over time.
Hope for more
she only asks for help once her hands are already bloodied.
she hides behind locked doors with one firm hand gripping the handle;
her brows furrow at the thought of the many the secrets she harbors.
keep them at bay
the few she allows to bubble to the surface
scratch at her insides on their way up, and evidently mar her skin,
she hates having to begin again
in a new place, cradling the same face
she reaches for an outsider
and he smiles at her sweetly
pearlies shone bright
his cerulean eyes twinkling like the night;
he wants to know her story—
approaches her with open palms to the sky
urges her to turn the page.
His presence makes her imagine water scented with honey dew.
Makes her feel that familiar tug in her abdomen— indicating menses are at the door.
she angles herself higher—toes tipping like a beginning ballerina.
her lungs begin to exhaust themselves with hope
and when she hears loud footsteps
she plops back down in her dimly lit reality
his eyes may bring about a new storm
she has always been cautious.
Yet, her feet want to brave the field bare—
feel the tickle of the grass and pines—
Okunyi Chol: "I am a writer of South Sudanese descent. I fell in love with literature and writing at age seven, and I hope to be an author someday and inspire others with my stories. I currently work in higher education."