Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 3



Carla M. Cherry


Dear Ms. Tyson

After nappy edges (a cross-country sojourn) by Ntozake Shange

Your signature engraved,
gold-lettered script/purple cover.
What else would you do for a queen?
I wandered from bed to sofa/Just As I Am
             in between my hands/two risings/
             settings of the sun and moon
             Carom/imaginary narrator with your voice/
             slight song of Nevis/on your tongue.

For 399 pages/I walked alongside you/landing
of a white dove on Fredericka’s head/proclamation/an American sojourn
deck of a ship/tearful waving/waves/new shore
Calling of the Band
outdoor stand/Father selling vegetables

Baby You/born bald/sucking her thumb/almost too
tiny to live/Father walked his String Bean to Central Park/fresh air.
Mother cooked/cleaned for wealthy families/
tried to fatten you up/macaroni and cheese/
okra/corn meal mush/mashed potatoes fluffy with a soft-boiled egg/
3 pats of butter waiting on the radiator/lunch break/sewed
dresses for her princesses/hand-crank sewing machine.
Sister, try this on!
Cleanliness/godliness.
Mother scrubbed everybody’s clothes/a washboard/a clawfoot tub
Siblings sleeping side by side/rollout bed in the living room.

Trust and obey, trust and obey.
Church on Sundays/Monday prayer/Wednesday prayer/choir rehearsal, Fridays.
Miss Sullivan pranced by your desk: “You’re gonna be in pictures”.
Kids on the block: “Skinny nappy-headed nigger” String Bean was stung but you did not even blink.

A rocking chair/Mother staring/shelling peanuts/the window.
This life. This life.
The Bronx Slave Market/Third Avenue and 149th.

The Blood/at nine.
Cotton square/two strings.
Stay away from the boys/I will talk to you when I come back.
Fredericka never found the words.
A minister’s son.
Kisses/Lifted hem/quick thrusts/17.
No knowledge of how that baby came.
A wedding/blue dress/tears of sorrow.

Clerk by day/diploma earned at night.
Secretarial jobs/Baby in Aunties’ and Fredericka’s arms.
Secretarial pool at night/fifty, sixty hours a week.
Boarding school so you could work.

A co-worker/30 years/a gold watch/goodbye.
You, like the Flame Tree, required deeper soil.
30 years? Not me. I will buy myself a watch.

Are you a model?
Well, you should be!
You, shocked, with angled cheekbones/perfectly ebon eyes/skin.
Repaired the runs in your silk stockings/slipped on powder blue dress/sashayed
into Barbara Watson’s Harlem living room.
Classes/Pose and poise/Modeling jobs.
Evelyn Davis asking who you were.
Carib Gold.
Paul Mann Actors’ Studio.
He asked you where you see yourself
going in the industry/shut his door
hands grasping/breasts
hands reaching/your blouse/fighting.
Went home to cry.
There you were in his class the next week.
Him staring/“I thought I’d never see you again.”
No brick in the road would keep you from
Lloyd Richards.
He helped you: how to bring a character to/life
No, Mann’s hands on your camisole would not stop you/from becoming
Rebecca Morgan
Jane Pittman
Marva Collins
Vivian Perry
Mrs. Browne
Flora Palmer
Mrs. Watts
Miss Luma
So many times, we would watch Bustin’ Loose/
chuckle/Samantha smacking Joe in the head/teddy bear, Dakota.
Near tears/Roberta Flack’s Just When I Needed You/arose past the mountains/
Fell out at your jackknife jump/the lake
Mr.Braxton, don’t drown!

Abyssinian gathering: A Trip to Bountiful.
Q&A, just with us.
I stood up.
“Ms. Tyson, my niece here wants to sing.
Do you have any advice?”
She asked my niece to stand.
Learn. Your. Craft.
I poked my niece for being/too shy
Speak up!
“Don’t you know who this is?”
Mad at Miles, all over again.
His cheating/he punched you in the chest. You forgave/They called him Blackie.
Final two chapters.
Shuddering/salt in nose/throat
Sunset was coming.
I wanted more stories
             Diana Sands
             Ruby Dee
             Diahann Carroll
             Roscoe Lee Brown
             Arthur Mitchell
             Sidney Poitier
             Roxie Roker
             Maya Angelou
As the song of Nevis faded in my head/I cried/
No/Please, don’t go.
This life, this life.




For Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka became a household name when she won the U.S. Open last summer — and did it while wearing a face mask with the name of a different Black person murdered by racial violence on each day of the tournament. She’s an international tennis star on the same level as legends like Serena Williams, but after some controversy, she’s announced that she’s quitting the ongoing French Open tournament.

Osaka announced her decision to withdraw from the French Open on Twitter, where she said the move was to protecting her mental health is

“I think the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote. “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”

Osaka went on in her statement to explain that, since the 2018 U.S. Open, she’s suffered from “long bouts of depression.” She explained that speaking to the public and reporters at mandatory press conferences during tournaments gives her “huge waves of anxiety.”

“Here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” Osaka wrote. “I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.”

Osaka announced early on that she didn’t want to participate in press conferences, even though they’re mandatory for French Open players, and she was fined $15,000 for her decision. Tournament officials also warned that if she continued to skip press conferences, she could be kicked out of the tournament. The controversy has sparked a larger debate in the tennis and sport communities about the responsibility of athletes to make themselves available to reporters who often ask probing and invasive questions.

             I

n a press conference after Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the French Open, French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton called the entire situation “unfortunate” and wished Osaka a speedy recovery. Notably, he did not take questions from reporters. Yes, my sister,

“I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans,” Osaka wrote at the end of her statement.wwin




Weight

“That’s not going to work,”
the woman said, pointing to my niece’s outfit.
She was there to volunteer for our community garden.
Two other times that morning
the ladies commented on her fitted jeans and halter top.

“But it’s summer,” I said when my niece relayed the story.
Just like the elderly women at the churches she’s joined.
Pointing fingers, clucking tongues.

No inquiry about her interest in environmental justice
and gardening, her internship at Wave Hill.
Had they talked to her, they might have heard about
the connection between allergies and botanical sexism
the couch-clawing cat we all said she couldn't have
that she rescued from a shelter anyway,
the spinach and tomatoes she grows on the terrace,
the philodendron and spider ferns she
tends in her deceased mother's bedroom,
or how she’s prohibited my mother
from using paper towel and plastic shopping bags.

They always wonder where the young people are.
The way old people act, that’s why.


“Do you want me to go with you next time?”
My fingers curled into fists.

No, Auntie, I got it.
I know she does.
She is 22, 5 feet, size 2,
but like me, she has full-blown fire in her throat.

“I felt guilty when Nana told me what happened.
We’ve argued about your clothing a few times over the years.
I only did that to protect you,” I said, recalling the men like
the gray-haired letch I scolded for staring her down
and smiling when she was 12.

Then it occurred to me that
the elderly ladies from church and the garden,
like me, were young once,
had men’s eyes rove from head to toe,
sweet nothings turned sour on the street or worse.

Roses have thorns.
These women had upright posture and conservative dress.

I’m only going to have this body for a little while.
Once I have kids I won’t wear my clingy dresses and crop tops.


“Now who’s body shaming,” I said.
“Why can’t mothers wear pum-pum shorts?”

Well one time I saw this mother with her little son and her shorts were really short.
I don’t think that’s appropriate.


Isn’t it funny how much weight we put on women



Carla M. Cherry: “I am a veteran English teacher. My poetry has appeared in publications such as Anderbo, Eunoia Review, Random Sample Review, MemoryHouse, Bop Dead City, Anti-Heroin Chic, 433, The Racket and Raising Mothers. I am a candidate in the City College of New York’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program with a concentration in poetry. I have written five books of poetry; my latest is Stardust and Skin (iiPublishing 2020).”




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