Lest somebody’s dead
or somebody got born
Grandmama-grandmama’s phone don’t ring.
And there weren’t crows cawing
at the fence that February morning
or come August-time two years down the road.
Phone rang and Grandmama-grandmama answered
and she grinned
and put some black eyed peas on to soak
and pulled some collards out the freezer.
‘Cause Babygirl was here now
and way, way up North
and she needed some luck.
Mama got cut open to pull Babygirl out.
She was a just little thing,
an early thing,
and the doctor didn’t wanna lose her in Mama’s hips.
Winter Babygirl screamed and split and froze
all those up-North-home
Mama’d say, misty-eyed: There couldn’t be anything wrong
with any little girl who screamed that loud.
Second time round,
Babyboy gave her problems too.
Too long, too much hair.
Too big this time.
Babyboy stretched and hooked
little babyboy fingers into Mama’s
shoulder blades and held on to ‘em.
Doctor’s hadta pry him out, Mama said.
Grandmama-grandmama answered and she laughed,
and pulled fresh collards from out back
and took out her pea-shellin bowl
to shell some black-eyed luck peas
for big-headed Babyboy
who got a lil too comfortable.
A black babyboy that stubborn was gonna need some luck too.
Grandmama-grandmama looks at the date and whistles
through her gap-toothed smile. Two and a half years apart to the day.
Tells a neighbor, they gonna be lucky high yella children. They gonna hafta be.
Love Left Out to Vinegar
Grandmama-grandmama sang at her own funeral. Waaaaade iiiiin the waaaater. WAAAAADE IN THE WAAATERcame outta pussywillows children came outta pussywillows and waaaaade danced kickin up and god’s gonna trouble everybody talked about the waaaaaater for years to come.
Grandmama-grandmama rehearsed all her damn life, said I wanna be reeeeeeady, wanna be reeeeaaaaadyy, ohh ready to put on that long white robe and she sewed it herself between makin biscuits
and bendin down over back-yard herbs reeeeeeaaadyyy and the crowd joined Preacha-man cause if my Lord should caaaaaaall on me, Loooord, I would be ready to die.
Neighbor-next-door stood up next an said Grandmama-grandmama kept her up all night singin steal away, steal away, steal away, steal away and she wouldn’t ever shut up hooome
and a pussywillow flicked some water at her hmmmm but Neighbor-next-door laughed
and said last night she couldn’t sleep a wink with Grandmama-grandmama dead and restin her voice for the funeral.
Babygirl got up at the pulpit next and was wearing Grandmama-grandmama quilt like a dress
and didn’t say nothin’.
Just opened her mouth and Grandmama-grandmama’s voice sang: Didn’t my lord deliver Daaaniel,
Didn’t my lord deliver Daaaniel–
and Babygirl bit on the quilt to stop singin and stepped back down.
Preacha looked at Mama and Grandmama and they shook they heads and said,
not even Grandmama-grandmama could make our voice sing. Lord done skipped a couple
Babygirl opened her mouth back up to cry and Grandmama-grandmama crawled out her mouth this time and the crowd GASPED and Grandmama-grandmama paid no mind and sat in Babygirl’s lap to sing waaade in the water, waaaaaaaaade in the water children, wade in the waaater, God’s gonna trouble the waaaaaaterrrr. And Babygirl cried and cried and cried and filled up her lap like a puddle and Grandmama-grandmama washed away down and over Babygirl’s knees and slid into the swamp and the pussywillows took the song back I wannna be reeeeeeeaaaady, I wanna be reeeeaaady. Loooord, ready to put on that looong whiiiite roooobe.
Miles A.M. Collins-Sibley is Poetry Editor for Cosmonauts Avenue and 2017-2019 co-host for the jubilat / Jones Reading Series. They graduated from Smith College with a degree in Africana Studies and is currently an MFA candidate at UMass Amherst's program for Poets & Writers. They write poems in their black, queer, disabled voice and all of their poems are political. Especially after white boys read them. Their poems can be found or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Split Lip Press, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Poetry.org.