Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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I will not speak to you about the harm men do
     I see in your steady gaze and headstrong ways
     (from the moment you drew breath)
     that you will never use a man for a mirror
     and no man will ever use you for any reason
     But if you do (and if he does), remember
     We are all fools
     Just don't be the same fool twice

I will not speak of marrying black
     I will speak of marrying well
     (if I speak of it at all)
     You chafe at my ignorance
     Calling you black when you are so obviously brown --
     Always define such things for yourself

I will not speak of loving your body
     You must fall in love with it your own way
     I fell deeply in love
     As I carried you
     The life-giving curve and swell of me
     Ceased to be loathsome

But I will speak of loving what you do
     Never be practical -- I already paid that debt for you
     You refuse to accept that today is today
     when yesterday, it was tomorrow --
     you will not accept anyone's limits
     you will shatter glass ceilings

I will not speak of the three generations before us
     They leave a strange inheritance:
         tolerating the blessing of longevity
         as if a curse
     Keep up your whirling, twirling fearless dance
     until your long, lean legs -- withered
     and having never known boundaries --
     tap dance to your grave
     And if your legs fail,
     to let the angels know you're coming

But I will speak of our blood --
     that potent potable for thirsty interlopers
     -- equal parts Atlantic salt and Georgia clay,
     bullwhip bitters with a twist of freedom,
     and Reconstruction nightmares
     until Jim ate Crow
     -- shaken and stirred, a legacy of insane hope
     Be sure to swallow it whole
     There is no place, no time
     for blame
     for shame
     except this:

Daughter, I have tainted this blood
Not plantation boogie men, white-collar con men,
or dread-locked pseudo-righteous men
A recessive trait
so slippery disguising itself as love
Hear me when I tell you
its true nature:
a predisposition to slow-drag with obsession
to go belly-to-belly with infatuation
to mistake recklessness for adventure
to take a treasure for granted and call it art --

On second thought,
ignoring my mother worked wonders for me --
perhaps I will not speak at all.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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