Botanical Fanaticism by Thylias Moss

My ancestors weren’t hippies, cotton
precluded fascination with flowers.
I don’t remember communes, I remember
ghettos. The riots were real, not
products of hallucinogens. Free love had
been at Redbones since black unemployment
and credit saturation.

The white women my mother cleaned
for didn’t notice she had changed. I guess
it was a small event, a resurrected African
jumping out the gap in her front teeth. I
guess it looked like a cockroach; that’s
what she was supposed to have, not dignity.

My mother just couldn’t get excited
about the Beatles, those mops she swilled
in ammonia everyday on their heads. Besides,
she didn’t work like a dog but like a woman;
they aren’t the same. The hair was growing long
for the same reasons Pinocchio’s nose did.

I can think only of a lesbian draping
crepe paper chains over my head to make a
black Rapunzel possible; that’s how a white
woman tried to lift my burdens. At the time
I didn’t reject her for being lesbian or
white but for both burdens. That was when
I didn’t want Ivory soap to be what
cleaned me, made me presentable to society.
All the suds I’d seen were white, they still
are but who cares? I’m more interested in
how soap dwindles in my hand, under the faucet.

I’m old enough to remember blocks
of ice, old enough or poor enough.
I remember chipping away at it, broken
glass all over the floor. Later in the
riots, the broken glass of looting tattled
how desperate people were to keep cool.

There are roses now in my mother’s yard.
Sometimes she cuts them, sets them in Pepsi
bottles throughout her rooms. She is,
I admit, being sentimental. Looting her
heart. My father who planted them is gone.
That mop in the corner
is his cane growing roots.

Interpretation of a Poem by Frost by Thylias Moss

A young black girl stopped by the woods,
so young she knew only one man: Jim Crow
but she wasn’t allowed to call him Mister.
The woods were his and she respected his boundaries
even in the absence of fence.
Of course she delighted in the filling up
of his woods, she so accustomed to emptiness,
to being taken at face value.
This face, her face eternally the brown
of declining autumn, watches snow inter the grass,
cling to bark making it seem indecisive
about race preference, a fast-to-melt idealism.
With the grass covered, black and white are the only options,
polarity is the only reality; corners aren’t neutral
but are on edge.
She shakes off snow, defiance wasted
on the limited audience of horse.
The snow does not hypnotize her as it wants to,
as the blond sun does in making too many prefer daylight.
She has promises to keep,
the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,
the promise that she ride the horse only as long
as it is willing to accept riders,
the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,
the promise to her face that it not be mistaken as shadow,
and miles to go, more than the distance from Africa to Andover,
more than the distance from black to white
before she sleeps with Jim.