Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 4



Lisa Braxton


Family Room

You skipped down the basement stairs, two at a time
Like a performer in the grand finale of a musical
Stopping only when you’d landed in the family room
On the checkerboard tile floor that you installed
Where we watched movies and played Atari tennis, flipping the knob with just the right wrist
action
Back and forth
Back and forth
You and mom invited your friends from your factory jobs
Played 45s on the high fi–Aretha, Marvin, Wilson, Gladys
Shimmying down the Soul Train line before there was a Soul Train
Arms flapping the funky chicken, hips shifting and swaying the pony
Where you and mom operated your real estate firm

We listened from afar when you played your cerebral jazz albums on Sunday afternoons after
church, hard bop rollicking saxophone riffs that only appealed to you.
Pristine wood-paneled walls gradually populated with markers of your success.
Gold-plated plaques and framed “grip and grin” photos
NAACP President!
Black-owned business owner!
City Alderman!
Sponsor of causes in your community!
Now the plaques are packed away.
Warped jazz albums in a haphazard pile, a layer of dust obscuring the covers like scratches on a worn 45
rendering the sound muffled
The real estate firm folded long ago
High fi no longer spinning tunes
Friends passed on or moved back Down South
A distant memory, the skip down the stairs.

Now you wrestle with them
Shakily and slowly taking them one at a time
Gripping your cane with one hand and pulling yourself along on the railing, like a grade school choir
soloist searching for the right key.
Running up and down the scales, flailing until the right key presents itself.
Sometimes the stairs win and you tumble in your frailty.
Legs buckling beneath you.
I want to pick you up, take you back to the grand finale of the musical
Back to the freshly polished checkerboard dance floor.




Samantha's World

The world is her domain.

A freshly fluffed pillow,
A comfortable chair,
The top shelf of a closet, between neatly folded sweaters.
All belong to her.
Sit down, and you no longer have a lap. She has taken ownership.
And if it doesn’t feel just right, those paws go into action,
Pressing and pulling, twisting and tugging,
All to enhance her comfort level.
She leisurely enters a room, soft brush carpeting beneath her,
And declares every square inch hers.
It’s a cozy playground,
Where she springs and recoils with amazing elasticity,
Flipping and rolling,
Chocolate fur undulating with delight.
Once in a while, other creatures stumble into her orbit,
Interrupting her frolic.
Most unfortunate for them.
With piercing eyes and backside raised,
A searing hiss and a guttural growl,
She lets them know that they don’t belong.
And that a quick U-turn is in order.
Because they’ve entered unwelcome territory,
A place they may covet, but will never know.
For this is Samantha’s World.




Transparency

Today I will preach the gospel of transparency
Permitting light to pass through uninterrupted.
As sun ray pass through
A prism.

Up in the high pulpit
In the darkness
I watch the congregation before me,
Arms waving, slicing the air
Church fans fluttering as the choir crescendos
And the organist presses the keys hard
A high-pitched swirl of sound that wraps around me
That thumps me on my chest.

I uncloak the darkness
And let the light pass through me
Knowing my transparency will leave me naked
As the light of the world hung before his accusers
With barely a ragged cloth to cover him.
A congregation of 400 could become a committee of a handful.

A preacher in the black Baptist church ought not to put himself in such a spot.
The Bible preaches against that sort of thing, don’t you know?
Marry a woman, have children.


But the Lord has called me to be a preacher.
And he accepts me as I am.
He has blessed me with the preaching ability,
Fire in my words.
He made me, me for a reason.
I kept my silence for years.
I built my congregation and the collection plate.
Today the light will pass through me
Uninterrupted.




Welcome Home

On car rides down I-95
When my feet barely crested the edge of the back seat
I asked you why we didn’t live Down South
Instead of Up North
We wouldn’t be in the car eight hours getting there
To see our kin.

The ones who talked real slow
And said “y’all” and “fixin’” and “flustrated”
And “tarred” when they wanted to get some sleep.
The ones who sat in house dresses on the front porch
Rocking on metal-framed floral-cushioned lawn couches
As they held onto fly swatters they’d forgotten to leave in the kitchen.
Turning their heads until they almost broke
At the sight of an ambulance going by.
Then talking about it all evening
Until the lightning bugs came out.

You held loose onto the steering wheel
Looked at me through the rear-view mirror
Your eyes twinkling and simply told me
“Your mother and I wanted a better life.”

When my feet almost touched the footwell you told me what a better life was—
A place where a white playmate wasn’t your best buddy after school
Then got on his school bus the next morning, threw rocks at you and called you a N______
As you waited for your bus to your own school
The one with worn books and grades merged in one classroom.

A place where you didn’t have to go to the back door of the restaurant to order a meal.
Where you didn’t have to step off the sidewalk for “Miss Ann” and “Miss Kate” coming in your
direction
And keep your eyes lowered as they passed you.
A place I could not fathom.

Years after my feet reached the brake and gas pedals easily
I took my own car ride
Not venturing Down South
But staying Up North
In my own neighborhood
Got chased by a driver I accidentally cut off.
Got called a N_______,
Practically got run off the road.



Lisa Braxton: "I am an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. My debut novel, The Talking Drum, is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in spring 2020. I am a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and a book reviewer for 2040 Review. My stories and essays have appeared in Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope. I received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Media from Hampton University, my Master of Science degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. I am a former newspaper and television journalist. My website: www.LisaBraxton.com."




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