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.
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.