Friday, June 26, 2009

Camden, New Jersey: Poetry Friday

"Camden, New Jersey"
Kate Rushin

Two backyards down
Our neighbor is yelling:
Get done, Johnny! Get done!

Johnny is her son.

Then she yells: Got eight, Wanita?
Had seven tomatoes,
Now I got eight!

Wanita is her girlfriend

Then it hits me

Our neighbor is a lesbian, a mother,
And just as colored as
Everybody else.

I wonder if I'll be like her

Poking around the garden with boy's sneaks
Yelling about tomatoes

Hey, Wanita!
Had seven,
Now I got eight!

June is Gay Pride Month. This poem isn't about being a lesbian; it's about the intersection of identity: mothers, lovers, family, lovers, neighbors. It's about how we, black women see ourselves. Interestingly, I recently read an interview where writer, Jacqueline Woodson wrote she is a writer who is queer, a writer who is black, a writer who is a woman. She said she doesn't want different groups using her when it's convenient for them. She is all these things all the time.

I found myself smiling at how the narrator relates to her neighbor. She acknowledges the women are a couple and unlike many people in our society, she doesn't object to their relationship but recognizes how we are the same. I loved the identification: the speaker contemplates her own identity, a woman picking tomatoes. I don't not sure if the narrator is identifying as a lesbian. I hope I'm not missing an affirming moment. What I see is a woman who is okay with the idea of being like her neighbors. In whatever way she relates, it is all good in my mind.

At CORA Diversity Roll Call we are celebrating LGBTQ literature and writers. Check us out. This week Poetry Friday is hosted by Carol at Carol's Corner.

poem from The Black Back-Ups by Kate Rushin, Firebrand Books. 1993.

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