Four Poems by Stephani E.D. McDow

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Diaspora Café

My heart bass and his strength drum go
boom, boom, boom
not 808s, but soul strings
hand heals and open palms
origin thumpin’ coursing gospel through the blood,
toppling pilars of fed HIStory, bellowing out THE truth
actively — in breath, in voice, in existing
can y’all hear me?

From soil to sand and back again
the rows of straight strands reaching to the earth in supplication, to
tresses like ocean waves ebbing and flowing,
connecting Spirit between Black and brown lands, to
kinky roots reaching high in praise and sun worship
the grio, the shaman, the hieroglyph, the song
unifying in seed sown
Earth warm
fruit grown

My Name in Time

With the hour hand at 10 and the minute only 15 after,
Mother, not mine
but my great grand,
with her cotton white and feel hair,
leather black skin and walking wood,
crept down the hall, wood stick tapping the floor
like the second hand’s click.
She pushed through the cracked door and
said to the young woman as she held her budding belly,
“Please, name the baby after him.”
*click, click, click*
And the young woman took one hand and
rubbed it down the length of the life evident within,
not in trying to commune with the girl child therein
but in displaying possession.
“But I’ve already named her.”
And she did. A name, not for its meaning or inherited power,
but from three things –
a car, a perfume, a drink
and for her, that was perfect. Items innately her, desired things –
because self was her center even as the child within her was meant to be.
“I’ve named her,” she repeated.
“But she’s the first girl of her generation. Please, name her for him.
For me.”
*click, click*
And she removed her hands from her responsibility and crossed them about her breasts.
Silent indignation radiating yet knowing she would yield,
she looked at Mother – the contrast of her elder so powerful against herself –
she saw white hair, Black skin, frailty and time.
*click*
And it was done. Shifting the names she’d chosen for me over to make room
so that my first name now the feminine of my father’s,
though she only called me ‘the baby’ until I was 6 months old
choosing instead to revel in her anger than succumb to my given.
Taking up the mantle of her cause, her side called me only by the name she’d intended.
His side proudly called me by Mother’s ask.
And, years after the second-hand click on wood stopped,
my ancestor’s way, prevalently quilted into our skin and hair
has armed us with the ear to hear her counsel and song, if we choose.
Listening, I am reminded that
my name wouldn’t bear the same meaning had it not been for Mother
not mine, but my great grand
because her insistence made me royalty.


Monk Round Midnight

Ragtime-like
Exasperated and precise
Supposed-to-bes
That plagued my
Questioned pleas
And it was these
That unavoidably masked my thoughts . . .

Yet taught and taught and taught.

Shrugs

tree in the night sky
asks why I love
against man-made intentions

I mention my peace
and cease malicious vibes and
strive for solace

I miss.

Stephani E. D. McDow is a multi-genre writer published in Day Eight’s Diaspora Cafe: DC, Bourgeon, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Genre: Urban Arts No. 7, and Femme Literati: Mixtape Anthology. Her work has been anthologized alongside nationally prominent voices such as Jericho Brown, Lucille Clifton, Tess Gallagher, Ilya Kaminsky, Dunya Mikhail, Marge Piercy, and Danez Smith in Raven Chronicle Press’ Take a Stand: Art Against Hate, winner of the 2021 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. A Tin House Summer Workshop alumna and Hurston/Wright Summer Writers Week Workshop Fellow, Stephani is a native D.C. Washingtonian who currently resides in Maryland and is working on her first novel. Learn more by visiting http://stephanimcdow.com.

These poems were supported by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of Latino Affairs and through a retreat for Afro-Latin poets produced April 15, 2023 by Day Eight, directed by Jeffrey Banks and Maritza Rivera.

Image: Vis M, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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