By Takia Hill
“Until They See Us”
They will always look for us
Reminding us that we will never be red, white, and blue
Even when we are bathed in its lights
Even when there is blood, bone, and bruise
And when the sirens sound
We hide in the nearest patch of soft grass
Hold our hands like hummingbirds and
Watch star tails leave their trails
Across a bleak sky
Maybe we just become gutted land
The plot from collarbone to pelvis
Spread open while earthworms
Squirm under the ribs
We realize everything we touch is boneyard
While shots are fired in the distance
Someone will go on singing
“The Peculiar Weight of Holding”
She held her tongue between her thumb and index finger
look at it now
dangling lifeless thing—her body
is it not
all the same type of holding—held up
accountable for the way
her breasts rise and fall
their heaviness in palms
for the softness of her thighs
and how they crumple like discarded receipts
hands trace her body like chalk outlines
the smell of cigarettes and singed flesh
the moment she breathes in the smoke
takes in the spit
elbows in grease
not the way mama meant
when the lights go out
when the sirens don’t sound
when she is spent
and used like a rag to wipe up the mess
when she is spilled into the night air
when she is held down by hands
then knees and legs
when she is filled
when her mouth is full of fingers
and tongues that aren’t her own
when she swallows and swallows
until she disappears—
there is silence and caution tape
Willie McCoy was shot to death by the police while he was sleeping in his car. Let me repeat the headlines. Six police officers shot and killed a man in Vallejo when they woke him. They said he reached for his gun when he was startled awake and that is why they shot him. This is only one of at least three fatal shootings in the Bay Area where police have murdered a person while trying to wake them up.
Most people are accustomed to violence due to desensitization of seeing it and doing it so often, in video games, in film, ritualized events centered around acts of violence. It is common to see fists flying into faces, swollen eyes, legs being chopped off, blood oozing onto the floor staining carpets and hardwood red. It is like seeing a spilled glass of red wine at this point. Some people live violence. Come to expect it at every turn from everybody and there is no way to ensure where the next act is waiting to happen. People are also used to seeing cartoon violence. Cartoon violence is funny because they are only caricatures.
In 1939, Abel Meeropol wrote a song in response to a picture of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abe Smith. Billie Holiday sang a song called “Strange Fruit.” It would be a last number, the lights would dim and there would be a spotlight on her, a single spotlight, and she would sing. Here are some of the lyrics: “Southern trees bear strange fruit/ blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/ strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” She was met with an intense pushback.
The human body is capable of amazing things. Bones can reknit themselves. Human bodies are essentially bioluminescent and glow, but our eyes can’t pick it up. Our bodies tingle when it picks up on presences that are close to us. On your skull there are growth plates, (that I don’t know the name of.) Over time as you get older, the plates grow together and fuse. It takes years for these to come together and that is how they can indicate how old you are. The brain being capable of defense mechanism is also fascinating. How interesting is it to find that your brain is protecting you from all you can suffer? How many things are gone from memory because our brain has decided that we are safer not knowing them?
There are multiple meanings to blackness. There are multiple ways to be black, but people don’t think so. There are multiple ways to be human but sometimes to be black and to be human means to be dead and my brain can never quite correlate those things.
Melanin is supposed to protect us. The sunrays on our skin is dangerous and thus as a way to compensate, our bodies produce melanin to keep us safe. I noticed a flux in people tanning and ponder whether the exposure is good or bad if they can’t produce enough. On the other hand, there is a fair amount of the opposite. People choosing bleaching creams. It has reached a point where people are using lemons and tomatoes to lighten their skin. All I can think about it how much it stings. Maybe suffering means beauty. Maybe beautiful means better. Maybe better means light. Maybe light means white and that is why our bodies are so expendable.
My dad pulled a gun on my brother one night. My brother had snuck in through my dad’s bedroom window and startled him awake. My dad kept a gun underneath his pillow and pulled it on the intruder. My brother stopped moving. It’s just me dad. My dad put the gun back under his pillow.
The sound of sirens rings through my neighborhood as much as gunshots do. People can save lives just as easily as they can take them. The same things that protect citizens are the same things that hurt them. People live and people die and that is just life.
Within five minutes of waking, fifty to ninety percent of dreams are forgotten. It is said that people can only dream about faces they have seen. Only twelve percent of people dream in black and white, but most people live a life that they think is black and white. Life is not black and white and this isn’t the Imitation of Life.
The human body can withstand about fifty pounds per square inch (psi) on sudden impact. It can withstand up to four hundred psi if weight is gradually increased. It takes five-hundred and twenty pounds to crush a human skull. In a state of panic, it can take up to two to four minutes to die from carotid artery compression.
On a Monday in May of 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that kneeled on his neck for seven minutes. He was heard crying out for his mama. He was just wanted to breathe. He just wanted to breathe.
Minstrelsy was an epidemic in the early 19th century to the 20th century, however some of the stereotypes have carried over, twisted to fit into today’s popular culture. It was a form of American entertainment where people in black face would dance and act on stage in a frivolous manner. It was considered a comic performance of blackness. In this way, white men had a way to express emotions they otherwise couldn’t in a hyper masculine society and black people became caricatures complete with bright white flyaway lips and bulging eyes.
It is interesting how many things can be identified from teeth. Teeth that bite, chew, and rip. Teeth that remain long after most other parts have decayed because it is one of the hardest materials in your body. You forget that fact until you accidentally bite your cheek. Maybe because sharp teeth are hidden behind soft lips.
My dad had once scolded my brother for letting his mouth hang open. He said it made him look stupid. All pink gums and lip and white teeth. The row of my brother’s bottom teeth exposed while his fat bottom lip hung. Strange fruit have a history of hanging and people don’t need reminders.
Sometimes I wonder what it means to pass. Then I think of one drop rules and not being enough of something. How do you hold paradoxes in one hand? It is like trying to hold an ocean with two. How can you be one thing or another? How can you be one thing and another? How many ways can a person be? How many ways can a body bend and break beneath the pounding of objects, of bullets, of hate wrapped in flesh disguised as fists and limbs? How many pleas can we make for breath? How many ways can we breathe? Can we breathe? Can—
Trayvon Martin died while walking home for wearing a hoodie, holding a can of Arizona, and a bag of skittles. How many times have I been in a variance of that combination: wearing a black hoodie, a bag of chips, and a can of coca cola; in a hoodie, with a bag of mini donut holes, and a bottle of chocolate milk. All combinations are possible if you think about it. Wearing a hoodie, holding yourself together, riddled through with bullet holes.
Sometimes when I sleep, I dream of violence. I dream of the way my body bends and breaks beneath bodies falling out of the sky. I dream of speeding tickets that I have to pay with my blood. I dream of the ways my veins open and how America drinks it up with plastic straws. I dream of falling. Endless falling that doesn’t seem violent until the only thing to catch me are bullets. Are they flying into me? Or am I falling into them?
Takia is the product of an African American father and a Chinese mother. She is a first-generation UC Davis graduate and the author of a poetry collection entitled Beautiful Dying Systems. If you can’t find her writing or reading in the corner of a coffee shop, you can probably find her frolicking through Napa Valley learning new things about wine or engaging in thought-provoking conversations with strangers.