Summer Serenade

I’m accustomed to heat.

Summer is my favorite season, memories steeped

In Grandma’s house recollections or urban streets.

With my cousins on the floor laid out on a sheet while she watches her stories.

In the big metal fan’s path blowing out relief cause AC ain’t cheap.

Wafting chicken grease from the kitchen;

DANGER.

She’s cooking so it’s a good 10 degrees hotter in there; expect waterfalls of sweat streaks.

Peeling sticky thighs off leather seats as you awaken from your afternoon sleep.

Scratching mosquito bite blisters that oozed in the yard cause they found my blood a treat.

Feeling sand between my toes as I walk outside with bare feet with my country cousins.

Transport to city camp, trudging under the sun, rubber soles on concrete,

Heavy rays got us beat, but we find oases in cracked-open hydrants,

Indulge in cold water sweet.

Public pools, shower first, can’t swim, don’t go too deep.

Home alone, your mom’s at work, the days wide open on repeat.

Freedom.

Read, park, pool, play, eat.

Humid sunsets invoke nostalgia, skorts and jelly sandals, summer hair braided neat.

Library trips for Judy Blume, to get you through the week.

Punished for the whole summer because I wouldn’t speak,

Because I’d been a hungry child longing for skewered meat.

The sweat reminds me where I’ve come from, fond recollections seep

Throughout my subconscious, they overflow and peak.

The sun is my lover; I embrace and it greets me

With balmy Vitamin D buried down in my sheath.

I’ll take the bake of dog days, embrace the warm rays’ sweep.

And you’ll never catch me wishing for the days when there’d be sleet.

When I emerge outside, kiss my face when you meet me

And I won’t betray you to frost,

As long as you keep me.

You Know Better Than “Nigger”

I’m pretty fortunate to be a Black woman that has never been called the “N-word” in my life (well, at least never to my face). Someone DID once use it in social media conversation with me, referencing the darkness of one of my pancakes in a posted photo. When I didn’t respond, they were extremely apologetic at possibly having offended me, and entreated that I should call them a “cracker” as a means to get even.

I did not.

Now, I’m sure the day will come where “my person” will actually be on the receiving end of the ugly word. And when that day comes, I’m not going to be offended because you’ve somehow hurt my self-esteem, or I feel attacked.

I’m going to be annoyed.

One, because let’s not act like name-calling isn’t something we tell our five-year-olds not to do. So I’ll automatically assume you’re in a childish mindset at the moment.

But also, I have zero shame in being born of the African-American race. I love the color of my skin and my culture. Someone thinking they can hurt me by calling me the derogatory word for Black, as if I should feel bad for being born Black somehow, is ridiculous.

I am not a nigger.

And you calling me one, would in no way reflect upon myself, my values, or my accomplishments. It would reflect upon YOURS.

And THAT would be the annoyingly upsetting part. Because unless you’re some old white man in the deep south of Confederate country on a generational family farm descended from slaveowners, who never embraced the advent of the Internet and scarcely comes across a “free Black man”, then there’s no excuse for your ignorance.

Everybody knows.

Everybody knows at this point that it’s a heavily racist, degrading term. So when you still choose to use it, your intent behind it is to shame someone for being born a race. You want to be mean, nasty, and verbally drive a screwdriver into a wound with the easiest thing your eyes lock onto because you aren’t mentally swift enough to form an intelligent criticism that addresses a legitimate action on my part that I do have control over.

You’re choosing not to exercise self-control, which is a weak personality trait in itself. You’re choosing to take the lowest blow, because for some reason this will somehow make you feel better about yourself if you attempt to spit on someone’s heritage.

That’s not even ignorance. You know better.

Especially when those who don’t even use the word to be malicious, use it jokingly. Tossed around on the internet, even by Millennials and Gen Z-ers. It’s fun to be pretend-racist. To sling the N-word around like it’s trendy to others who find it amusing as well. From some, you gain clout; from others, derision. Either way, you’re getting attention, which still fuels you.

It was interesting to digest when my boyfriend recently told me some of his gamer buddies, mid-twenties, almost thirties even, volley the word around as an insult to rag on each other in their group chats. As if it were any other playful jab. Asshole. Motherfucker. Nigger.

They ain’t even white.

But just the act of existing as a Black person, is that much of a joke to many. Those who selfishly abandon the concept of empathy. That is what I find offensive.

That you can’t care, for somebody else.

Wanna hear a story?

I used to throw out the term “Jap” when I was younger, with no deprecating intention whatsoever, but just because it was the shortened version of “Japanese” and it was quicker to say (if you know me, you know I adore Japanese culture, so I still look back with shame at my ignorance). Once it was pointed out to me that it was demeaning and REALLY offensive (not by an actual Japanese person, thank God), EVEN though I wasn’t even saying it to any Japanese individual’s face, I CUT THAT SHIT OUT. I didn’t argue my right to free speech to use the word, mope about how the extra two syllables would be longer to say, feel ridiculously inconvenienced at the fact that this was an offensive slur, or even continue to use it in secret within my circle.

It was SURPRISINGLY easy.

But to some, simply not saying a hurtful word for the sake of others’ feelings is a really difficult thing. So, when the inevitable day comes that a childish mind will call me the N-word, my feelings won’t be hurt. Why should they? You’ll be the one showing me that you’re beneath me. Immature. Weak. Egotistic. And I won’t feel the need to lower myself to that level to fire back a retaliation slur. Because I’m not interested in using ethnic epithets for easy ammunition, or for the “lulz” online.

And I know I’m not a nigger.

But you do know better.

~Tael

Fuckboys Over 40 – A Story

You said you weren’t a playboy.
But I guess that’s what they say.
I don’t deal with them too often, so I missed flags straight away.

We crossed paths overseas, in the “loveliest” of ways.
In a sea of Spanish speakers, your English cleared the haze.
No interpreter necessary; I felt comfortable to play.
Touch escalated quickly, as you sought to mark your prey.
Your hands up my shirt; the way your fingers strayed.
And “water on a rock” put your commitment on display.

Hours passed of tennis banter, hand in hand down empty streets.
Awkward silence never showed while the world whizzed by our feet.

“Lover of women.” “Translucent redheads are my type.”
Phrases that seemed innocuous, when I had you for the night.

There was no doubt I would kiss you; Chemistry a violent fire.
Our melded lips became a match.
My will burned with desire.
Your fingertips traced smolders down my flesh and took me higher.
You gazed into my eyes as if my being was a pyre.

“It feels nice to be wanted too.”
So I tried to make sure you knew.

And though we didn’t consummate, I saw you once more.
You spent time just to chat,
as if I was good company, as if sex wasn’t foremost,
though I was shiny out the wrap.

Before our time was up, I asked was this goodbye.
You promised that it wasn’t; that we’d reunite in time.
That you’d come visit my city, resume pleasurable sighs.

Perhaps I should have realized then, that it was just a line,
since as soon as we were separated, I was out of sight and mind.
I wondered why you didn’t even text unless I tried.
But when I called you out on it, you assured me it was fine.
“There’s no Internet here, so it takes me a long time, but I’m thinking of you darling.”
SOUNDED genuine and kind.
Till you took days to answer, disrespectful of my time.

“I’m not good with online communication.”
“I just don’t check my phone often.”

(WhatsApp and IG status updated though,
so that one’s purely grime).

This what you meant by let’s keep talking? I thought you wanted to know me.
So maybe if I went to YOU, impatiently re-ignited that chemistry brew,
maybe THEN you’d show me?

But thrice the universe said “Nope” and then sent forth a plague.
Solidifying her message to me: “Thou shalt not get laid.” (By him).

I thought this meant we should keep building,
until our inevitable reunion.

I genuinely showed interest in your day to day life.
But my name escaped you 4 months in (you claimed you found names trite).

You never asked anything about myself, though I longed to bond over dancing,
video games and nerdy things, and shared fitness passion.
But you just seemed more attuned to would-be bedroom action.
Though you reached out for favors to eyeball your work
and my mind felt appreciated; my heart went berserk.

So much in common you didn’t bother to notice.
“I’m emotionally distant and work is my focus.”
But every time I asked if you wanted to keep talking,
you always said yes, so I pumped the breaks on walking.

How could I not open my heart more and soften?
Okay, he did a gay short once; #actors do those often. (Yeah?)
He has a belly button piercing… well, his stomach’s taut and…

Why do I cry tears for being just an afterthought then?

You said your heart was once broken, that you were sensitive too.
Yet you’re unable to empathize with another in your shoes?

You said your heartbreak wasn’t crazy, though you wouldn’t indulge me.
But you’d indulge a public podcast, for the whole world to see
you’d like to hate-fuck your ex, and other wicked fantasies?

Tiptoed around my feelings, so as not to overwhelm you
but why hold on when you equated me to just a shell who
could easily be replaced by your revolving harem options
when all I wanted was to feel I was special in your clock and
instead you just saw fit to pull a vanish and just drop in
when you felt like I was worth your time, “Oh have a crumb, my OPTION.”

Because dance is the gift of seduction.
Acting, the gift of pretense.
Public speaking, when you can’t actually communicate personally?
A mask of fraudulence.
An inauthentic mirror of immoral decadence.

You log your sexual conquests on a spreadsheet.
I write poems of catharsis for emotional relief.

I showed my vulnerability and stripped bare,
only to realize I’m standing alone out there
and the hardest pill to swallow is…
After 5 months, you don’t care.

To say…
I could have contracted Covid and passed away
without your notice is fair.

But the honesty of your true intentions could have spared me. (It’s called stringing).

Mixed signals are the devil, and your follower cannot read
where to step next in the dance when the leader doesn’t lead. (It’s called breadcrumbing).

But maybe it’s better to be the loser…

Because why choose cold and distant over caring and kind? And close-hearted aloofness over glowing warmth in brine.
And clinging to angry ex memories that keep you stagnant in time.

And anyway, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find
another slender, gaming badass, awesome locks ran down her spine,
with a chain around her belly,
and a heart as big as mine.

~Tael

Blackness Mirrored

I see you all, standing with us.

Mirroring our outrage, disgust and frustration. Those who have to be mindful of their skin tone every day. Those who have the privilege of forgetting their skin color.

Those who don’t see skin color at all.

Which camp are you?

I see my Blackness as part of my genetic make-up; an identity trait holding no more weight than my slim frame, flowing dreadlocks, love of music. But I don’t “experience” my skin tone. I share it. The unpopular minority that doesn’t immediately get offended if another race uses the term “nigga.” To me it’s an urban term; you know when it’s being used inappropriately and the intention of the one using it. You know.

You could be the self-hating Black kind like my ex-husband. Terrified to be associated with anything stereotypical, like Red Lobster, fried chicken and watermelon. Clinging to art and classical music, ties and blazers, to remind everyone “I’m not THAT kind of Black.”

While I seamlessly drift through all worlds at once; projects and spacious houses, Flatbush and Midtown, slang and literature.

Because allies are everywhere.

Internally, i’m not very mindful of my Blackness. Because I don’t “wear” it. I just…AM. But outside my bubble, discrimination continues. And when I watch the viral clips and videos, I FEEL it.

When a Black man needlessly gets shot, jogging in his neighborhood or relaxing in his OWN HOME, I get angry.  When a white woman calls the cops on a Black person for existing…calling her out for breaking the rules, waiting for a friend in an apartment building, barbecuing, playing golf…I get angry. When we’re being choked and cry out that we can’t breathe and it’s ignored, and we DIE, I get angry. When four cops need to pile on top of an unarmed Black mother in front of her child because apparently that force was necessary, I get angry. I wonder why, despite growing up in a blender of culture, after 33 years this insensitivity still exists in 2020. Like it’s been frozen and preserved, retaining all the same intensity as the Jim Crow era. I don’t understand racism. I grew up surrounded by blacks, whites, browns, tans, pales, caramels, butters, peanuts, olives, accents, hijabs, yarmulkes, jade stones and languages I did not understand.

I grew up around tolerance. Acceptance.

So I get ANGRY when I hear this bullshit is still happening. And I feel the collective rage. And I don’t NOT condone the looting. And the anarchy. And the chaos. The wild frustrated will to truly be free when you’ve been walking on eggshells the rest of the time. And the melting pot all over the nation feels it, and the unified support and disgust that these incidents keep occurring that non-Blacks are mirroring is a tearful embrace saying, “We got ya’ll.”

And I’m so proud. To everyone who stares down an armed cop to mirror our indignation in the name of our equality, I’m so proud. I want to absorb your courage.

I love you for marching for us.

And I love those unafraid to open dialogue about Blackness. So many of us are quick to lash out at ignorance. And while I fully understand the sentiment, discussion from both sides NEEDS to take place, not just condemnation.

It’s maddening that ignorance exists and some shit we think is obvious still needs to be TAUGHT to others. But we have to accept that we live in a world riddled with ignorance. And if someone is willing to address that ignorance within themselves, and actively seek guidance and understanding in an effort to rise above it, then that is courage as well, and we need to be willing to mentor and educate with a disciplined mind. On why that way of thinking is wrong. On why that sort of action is inappropriate or offensive. Poke enough holes through a closed mind that wants to be open, and ignorance can filter out like a sieve.

I will never be afraid to have that dialogue. Because it’s knowledge that defeats ignorance.

The incidents of injustice we keep seeing, can make you want to give in so badly to automatic hate.

But, I don’t want to be driven to hate.
Because hate is why we’re where we are now.

But if it makes you feel a little better, do it anyway. Get it out. Hate. Emote. Protest. Riot. Loot.

Teach.

~Tael

Unlearning: Discomfort = Love

Not too long ago, I asked my crush about a past relationship and he informed me that he didn’t want to go into detail about it. My first reaction was hurt; I wanted to connect and grow closer by learning about this part of his past and I almost felt shut out by it. But the logical part of my brain reasoned with me: why was I making this about myself? It had nothing to do with me. He just felt uncomfortable sharing it.

Boundaries.

Some time ago, my therapist (AND my boss haha) brought some very valuable information to light concerning my tenuous relationship with my mother; that our relationship lacked boundaries, which then translated into boundary-trampling in my other relationships. I put aside what made me uncomfortable in romantic relationships, and suffocated my partners’ limits, because my upbringing had taught me that discomfort equals love.

I want to say “in my family,” but maybe this wasn’t the case. Maybe it was just my mom in particular, who never took my personal mental comfort seriously. Sure, the normal PHYSICAL comforts were taken care of. But never my psyche.

She’d buy clog-shoes that felt uncomfortable on my feet, but insist I wear them because they were “fashionable.” She’d force me to wear a graduation dress that exposed far too much side-boob than my 13-year-old self was comfortable with. She’d demand that I hug so-and-so, despite my visible uneasiness, and call out that uneasiness as problematic because she didn’t understand it (or care to ask), putting me at war with my internal feelings.

We weren’t allowed to have boundaries as children, it seemed…because adults knew better what we should properly feel.

She’d drag me to the forefront of an audience to recite a pleasantry (knowing full well I hated being the center of attention) and stand idly by as her shadow as they asked me questions and she answered for me, until I had permission to flee. Or she’d shove me into a group of children at a gathering against my pleas and demand I make friends, where anxiety got the better of me and I’d break down and sob.

Once I reached adulthood, moved out and got my own job, apartment, and self-sufficiency, those habits never ended. She continued to pull me into the spotlight to show me off, cut me off to answer questions directed at me, and automatically make plans for me assuming it was a given I’d go along with them. Any time I expressed discomfort as an adult, manipulation tactics, guilt trips and gaslighting were used to coerce my submission.

Eventually, I resorted to ignoring her phone calls and texts most of the time, or preparing ironclad defenses like a lawyer as to why I couldn’t attend an event, simply because I was afraid to say “no” and the drama that would ensue as a result. But as an adult, why did I still need to live with this fear? Why couldn’t I ever say “Actually, I don’t feel like it,” or “I think that request is unfair, so no,” or “I feel uncomfortable,” without getting the 3rd degree for it and made to feel that my emotions were insubstantial somehow?

Always made to feel like a selfish person to choose yourself first, guilt became interweaved with the concept of “no,” and responsibility for everyone else’s feelings paramount to your own. And discomfort became a way of life; normal even. And boundaries ceased to exist between those who love each other and the more uncomfortable you feel, the stronger your bond and the higher your love must reach. Until distress spills over everywhere because you don’t even know what boundaries are anymore, or the source of your unhappiness.

But…you do know a state of constant discomfort doesn’t feel good, so you wonder…why would someone who loves me continue to put me in situations I don’t feel comfortable in, for their own satisfaction?

I don’t want to continue that cycle.

Unlearn that love.

~Tael