For Middlesex County Academy in New Brunswick, NJ — Alternative School
and Damon House — Alcohol & Drug Treatment Facility
They banter back and forth like boys do:
You charcoal, son. You so black you purple.
I tell them, hol’up in defense of my mahogany skin
and the boy they’re putting down. I say,
You know what they say? In cue as if we rehearsed it,
we both chime, the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
We flash twin smiles. There’s a moment when the air
gets less complicated in the room. The space is large enough
for me to ask, why y’all hate on each other so hard?
Oh, he? He my boy. See, that’s how we show love.
They crush so hard I want to weep —
I’m so tired of everybody being gangsta hard,
but they are being real. I know ‘cause I got brothers
and growin up I never saw them show love,
except in that one on one — man on man dunk in yo face.
Call you ignant ten times a day kind of way.
Their talk swags like their walk.
I follow the conversation as it dips and drags.
We end up talking about how we were punished as kids.
I lead with, I’m from the South and ya’ll don’t know
nothin about a switch — havin to go ‘round back
fetch your own hickory, the same stick use to beat you.
I say these words and I still feel the sting of the switch.
See welts raising into an angry language of graffiti on my skin.
One says, don’t bring back no skinny one neither.
I shake my head in solidarity—the blood we’ve spilled makes us kin.
Another boys says, what about those belts?
I hear my mama’s beating cadence,
a belt whip with every word, I—told—you—not — to…
Another says, extension cord.
I’m brought fully awake, cause
I don’t know nothing ‘bout that kind of whippin.
We only heard of Cedric down the street gettin beat like that.
Then, we did not know the word, Abuse
or the phrase Child Protective Services.
We just said his mama was MEAN.
Jicante, another says, I say huh? Rice.
You kneel on raw rice for hours.
We walk down alleys; I listen as they go deeper
into the shadows farther than I have ever been,
but we don’t skip a beat. We laugh —
joke about our beatings and nobody mentions
the pain, but it’s all understood — we are all battered.
We bump up against each other’s wounds before we brainstorm.
I pick up the marker and they bicker blue versus red.
I read between the gang signs. It is not lost on me,
that when these colors mingle, they make purple.
I muse in my mind how violence for them still continues.
I come back to the poem, that we are here to write;
the ones that saved my life. I know this detour we took
down old roads is a place we had to go,
places where we have been loved so hard it hurts,
so hard we are still bruised.
We bear our scars,
then we pick up our pens
Glenis Redmond is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina. She graduated from Erskine College and obtained her M.F.A at Warren Wilson College. She is a full-time performance poet and published in literary journals across the nation.