Poem After Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

What if, Betye, instead of a rifle or hand
grenade—I mean, what if after
the loaded gun that takes two hands
to fire, I lay down the splintered broom
and the steel so cold it wets
my cheek? What if I unclench the valleys
of my fist, and lay down
the wailing baby?
Gonna burn the moon in a cast-iron skillet.
Gonna climb the men who, when they see my face, turn into stony mountains.
Gonna get out of the kitchen.
Gonna try on my nakedness like a silk kimono.
Gonna find me a lover who eats nothing but pussy.
Let the whites of my eyes roll, roll.
Gonna clench my toes.
Gonna purr beneath my own hand.
Gonna take down my hair.
Try on a crown of crow feathers.
Gonna roam the wide aisles of the peach grove, light dripping off branches like syrup, leaves brushing the fuzz on my arms.
—You dig?—
Gonna let the juice trickle down my chin.
Gonna smear the sun like war paint across my chest.
Gonna shimmy into a pair of royal blue bell-bottoms.
Gonna trample the far-out thunderclouds, heavy in their lightness.
Watch them slink away.
Gonna grimace.
Gonna grin.
Gonna lay down my sword.
Pick up the delicate eggs of my fists.
Gonna jab the face that hovered over mine.
It’s easy to find the lips, surrounded as they are in minstrel black.
Gonna bloody the head of every god, ghost, or swan who has torn into me—pried me open with its beak.
Gonna catch my breath in a hunting trap.
Gonna lean against the ropes.
Gonna break the nose of mythology.
—Goodnight John-Boy—
Gonna ice my hands in April’s stream.
Gonna scowl and scream and shepherd my hollering into a green pasture.
Gonna mend my annihilations into a white picket fence.
Gonna whip a tornado with my scarlet handkerchief.
Spin myself dizzy as a purple-lipped drunkard.
Gonna lay down, by the riverside, sticky and braless in the golden sand.

Ain’t gonna study war no more.
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

Ama Codjoe