From the Anthology 

Black Women Coping in Cleveland

For Bender Ave. Girls

by Kelly Harris

Chalked names on concrete squares

warn the world:

step to us with a bouquet

of respect. We live here, too,

among blades of boys

and broken classroom windows,

after school, the smell of urine

and flirty old men fill the streets.

Fast girls cause we gotta be,

moving like a unit of soldiers,

ready to pull knives, jump ropes

and fences — shooing dogs silent.

We stilt walk above factory smoke,

braid our hair like a Mary J album.

Our laughter, loud and lonely — eligible

for living on blocks where cheese

and children get chopped into sections of eight.

Kinfolk tell stories in kitchens

of Alabama and burning crosses.

We daughters of daughters of runaway

Negroes still bent in the fields of yesterday.

Maps of our mothers veined in our palms,

We catch buses and side - eyes

while searching for the same North star

that brought us here.

We survive like every bad mayor elected,

pretend our tears are hard laughs.

Word on the street is

our bodies flow easy. No daddies

stand guard at our doors,

but we cross our arms

into black girl stance under streets lights

popping gum like warning shots.

Author Bio

Kelly Harris-DeBerry was raised in East Cleveland, OH and received her undergraduate degree from Kent State University and her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in Cambridge. She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center and Cave Canem. Some of her recent publishing credits include: 400 yrs: The story of Black people in poems written from love 1619–2019, Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip Hop, Angles in the Wilderness: Young and Black in New Orleans and Beyond, The National Parks Service Centennial Commemoration publication with Sonia Sanchez, and more.

Now living in New Orleans, Kelly serves as a regional Literary Coordinator for Poets & Writers, Inc. based in New York. Her debut book, Freedom Knows My Name (Xavier Review Press), is currently available.