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Even When We Did Not Have Anything, We Had Something; Ode To My Lips by Shirley Luke

Even when we did not have anything, we had something

Hardwood floor, stained, edges charred black

years of praying, of playing, of crying

Cobwebs in the windows, roaches on the walls, mice commuting

between rooms, remnants of their travels cover our feet

Wild cats commune in the backyard, meowing at the moon,

stray dogs lurk nearby, growling, hungry for dinner

The kitchen is quiet except for the steady hum of the refrigerator,

loaded with government cheese, hard as a brick, giving us belly aches

as we stand in the bathroom, staring at the cracked plaster,

dirty tub and dingy toilet, mom was too tired to clean today, or any day

A spider captures a fly in its web home, an old lamp shade,

the fly's struggles are futile, but it still struggles, so do we

My lap is a desk as I write a story, a narrative of poverty

my young mind seeking meaning, it's elusive

Books surround my body as the TV blares in my brother's room

our mother sings a hymn from a church we no longer attend

I am the center of their universe, and they are the center of mine

we revolve around each other like planets around a sun

Ode to My Lips

Oval-shaped history

from my grandmother’s mouth

born after enslavement

given to my mother’s mouth

the gift of speech

that she did not use

against my father

whose fist

silenced her

but punched my voice

from my mouth like

fresh air & my mother

was so grateful to my father

for that one thing, giving

me a voice that

a man's hands would

never silence


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