A Poem for Damion (Also, Virtue)

Virtue never saved me.

Virtue was constructed as an assurance for my father. And built a cage for my mother.

It walked me home, up the hill, every day after school,

But couldn’t save me from little brown boys running round my second base without my permission.

I didn’t own myself, virtue did. And I was never enough.

It dressed me, and allowed strangers to adjust me. To slide their fingers into/onto me to help me.

Virtue taught me to say “Thank you” even when my favorite Aunt’s grip was way too tight.

It taught me to be afraid of the skin just above my knees, uncovered.

Virtue made me terrified of motherhood.

Because my daughter could always be a mistake, a little brown girl stumbling around the world

Picking up smudges.

Dirty girl, dirty me.

Virtue made compliments conditional, bargaining chips.

Those four-by-ten letter words only mattered if someone else said them,

Because “good” black girls never say that they are “good”. Or “beautiful” Or “smart”.

We only say “Thank you.”


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