April 25, 2011

3 Poems

by Khadijah Queen

Pants: Los Angeles

In 1990 my sister decided she hated the way jeans dug into her belly when she sat down, the waistband as good as a cinch a hundred years before. She started shopping in the men's section at the Levi's store on Robertson & Pico, buying pants that hung an inch below her navel, adding a wide leather belt to close the gape above her ass crack, paired them with crotch-snapped bodysuits in every color. I bought some too. Denim and green velvet and gold hoop earrings and cowrie necklaces. We walked down Melrose during class hours and after, me in platform sandals, she in Doc Martens, our hair beneath bandanas, long fake braids with rubber-banded or lighter-burned tips swishing at the new low top of our bottoms, low-rise before retail, in love with movement and ditching and loving our own imaginations.

There is a beautiful my mother approaches.

Which approaches her. My mother overtakes.
She even stands beautifully, adds graceful
flourishes to apple-peeling and mid-afternoon
martini drinking and saying nothing but, be
done with it.
Her royal defiant wave. The colorful
headwraps and Air Force T-shirts. Jeans and gold
shoes. The way she embarrassed us when
she wore them and got compliments wherever
we went. And my father designer everything –
suits, neckties, socks, Porsche muscle shirts
to play basketball in on Sundays at Crenshaw High.
But his bum elbow wouldn't let his gray
ponytail be perfect, so in the mornings I brushed
the waves to his nape and wrapped them into
an ordinary rubber band. We were late a lot.
In one school picture I wore striped purple culottes
while a boy I hated pinched me in the back.
I also wore matching socks and jelly Mary Janes
with a kitten heel, even at eight, because I knew
glamour. I used to watch my older sisters, in their 20s
in the '80s, dress for nights out, how they changed
and exchanged, draped electric blue mini dresses and
gobstopper yellow fake pearls, paisley stockings,
patent leather stilettos and wet, wet lips. They practiced
for Karaoke night at the local club -- Prince's "DMSR":
Dancemusicsexromance. I just knew they would win.
Back to back, feathered heads touching, hairbrush
microphones in one hand, the other on hips, akimbo.
They smelled good. They thinned their eyebrows
only to draw them in again, arched, darker.

In line at Panera Bread.

The old man in the Guinness hat has a pale wife who wears dark plum lipstick and has a shaking face. His is slick and tight, like a burn.

At the table across, a trio of young white men exits. They’d argued the same old surfaces – what if your wife made all the money. Same discontented pages fluttering at their feet.

The redhead has a broken foot. She shuffles in after a gentleman who holds open the door, she comes up smiling to the old couple, smiles they don’t return. She limps away, watching the worker change the coffee machine and sing low to herself in Spanish.

Young people smirk in the back. A toddler in sequined grape-purple sneakers smacks her mother in the face. A chocolate-brown woman in black pumps and a gray shift dress with black buttons walks out quickly with her latte. Another woman, the brown of wet sand, pulls her maize sweater closed, puts a fist to her mouth, stares out of the window. Man on the phone saying, I love you. I don’t remember what he looked like.

Bio: Khadijah Queen is the author of two poetry collections, Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic 2008), and Black Peculiar, which won the 2010 Noemi Book Award for Poetry and is forthcoming in fall 2011. She is also a visual and performance artist. Visit her website: www.khadijahqueen.com.

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