Times & Tenements Are A-Changin'  (a poem by L.M. Ross)

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This is a poem about my past and my present. It surely echoes, in some ways, the personal history of countless others. lmr

 

 
 

1960
 
There are tenements full of
women. Fannie Lou-skinned, 
dark-as-night,
eyes-on-the-prize, 
fighting-the-righteous- 
fight women. Those
new, most consciously BLACK
& talkin: "REVOLUTION!"
noble & boldly 
beautiful women!
 
1965
 
There are tenements full of
women... budding ebony ingenues 
who speak in high soprano winds
& bitch in bass sililoquies;
who cut so deep with the knives
of their eyes
until something vital
inside you, bleeds... women
who make even ghetto 
dandies sigh & say:
'Lord knows we need 
these women!'
 
 
1970
 
There are tenements full of 
women with names like Aretha...
Bonita, Cyreeta, my sister,
my auntie,
& my mother is 
one of them, Afro-topped
satin-skinned-
straightened-spine-
proud-necked-
postures-erect- 
demanding-nothing-but-
full-respect
women... who raise 
their fists to keep you
in check... & make 
urgent statements
even within the
burdensome weight of
their silences.
 
 
1980
 
There are street corners full
of women in skin-tight clothes.
lazy hips moving in slow figure-8s
traces of sniff-sniff beneath
their once proud nostrils...
Who are these 
Disappointed, raging,
pissed-off women?!
You know instinctively
not to mess with
any of them 
vicious & cursing, 
taboo tampering,
juju slinging,
root-working women!
 
 
 
1990
 
There were tenements
full of them. They existed,
They raised studious 
well-behaved children.
& then some
raised hell.
Some went to baptist church
& worshipped Jesus. &
some attended mosques
& praised Mohammed.
Some ran community centers.
Some dressed impeccibley. 
Some served as mentors.
They fed nations.
They fed me.
They watched out for each other's children.
They taught generations of us
the strength within 
our legacy.
And then...
 
 
2016
 
Once upon a time... 
there were tenements full
of these women, Yes,
I remember them.  This evening
I see their ghosts
keeping vigil
perched so high upon fire
escapes.  They sit as
silent sentinels over
entire neighborhoods...
their afroes graying, I'm reminded 
That I have loved them... each of
these crown-less queens
& these no-nonsence-faced
warrior women...
 
They existed.
They gave me purpose
They taught me lessons
They gave me wings... &
Now  it seems they're gone...
& yet they've left behind such vivid
impressions...
 
Where are they?
Damn it!
Where ARE they?
 
 
 
 
 
I miss them.
 
 
 
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