You needed me.
The morning I woke up after the election, the earth
stopped spinning and I had to get my oil changed.
That day I walked out into the frozen sunlight.
That day I went to Jiffy Lube and that middle-aged white
woman wouldn’t speak to or acknowledge me but I knew
she could see my black blood on the ground.
She could see my heart contracting like a red fist on the floor
and that I was bleeding from disbelief. She knew I was an accident
walking into the lobby,
sitting next to her reading the paper as the labradorite world
spun through my chest and face, crashed into my throat,
lacerated my jawbone, peeled my breath, engulfed my lungs,
suffocated me as
my heart quietly beat on the grimy Jiffy Lube floor.
But she wouldn’t look me in the eye.
Wouldn’t say: “I’m sorry for voting for that despicable man.
I’m sorry for doing this to my daughters and my grandmothers.
I’m sorry for my Klan mothers who grinned and burned the
genitals of black men swinging
from Mississippi trees. Sorry for the hobbling, the cutoff ears,
the Atlantic ocean sprinkled
with African bones.
But you see, I needed you.
Sorry for Sethe. For Pocahontas. For Jim Crow. For Chavez. For
For microaggressions. For the end of Welfare.
I’m sorry I voted out of fear. I’m sorry that black people still
make me afraid
even after all these years of living around them.
I’m sorry I secretly want you all to go back
to Africa or Belize or the Dominican Republic or Brazil. I’m
Sorry I have never invited a black person to dinner or lunch.
I’m sorry your great-great Black and Indian grandmothers breastfeed
my slave-master-in-training babies.
I’m sorry your mothers were shamed, starved, whipped and
and you feel that rape every morning you wake up and at some
point every day
that you are alive you think about the word R.A.P.E. in bold
Hollywood-sign sized letters
and you think of what black, red, brown, yellow peoples have
at the hands of colonizers, slave masters, teachers, scientists,
soldiers, realtors, bankers, white supremacists, doctors, civil
servants and, yes,
well-meaning white people like me
who voted out of fear.
I’m sorry I voted for the end of all things good.
I thought I was doing the right thing. I am afraid of what I don’t
like rap music and collard greens and ‘Good Times’
and what does blackgirlmagic really mean?
I am sorry I don’t have any black friends
and still only talk to one black woman I work with when I need
I’m sorry for Emmett Till and Lumumba and DACA and MOVE
and Spanish missions and the fire hoses that tore the flesh off
those black children
and their mothers. I’m sorry for Jasper, Texas and Trayvon and Sandra and Eric and
Did I tell you I needed you?
It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.
I’m sorry you can’t BREATHE.
I am just a white woman living in America.
I am just a white woman living in America.
I am just a white woman in America.
I’m sorry I was the southern belle and you
and your mothers and your mothers’ mothers laying in the grass
were the antebellum road we traveled to get here.
Your fingers, toes, wombs, hair, a sacred lattice of resistance on
Your laughter, tears, escapes green-corn harvest dances taunting
Filling my mouth with sweet sorrow bread.
I chew tin foil to make myself stop crying at night
because I am afraid of all that I don’t know.
I am sorry your heart is on that floor but it’s just one heart,
right? It’s not as if a million hearts beat on that floor,
waiting to die. It’s not as if I really have to see anything
I don’t want to see. You in Whole Foods. You on the sidewalk.
In a cardboard box. You under the freeway overpass.
You at the movies. You in Macy’s.
You. Make. Me. Afraid.
And I will be damned if I tell you I see it. I. Will. Be. Damned.
If I tell you that your heart on that floor is my heart too.
And I can’t breathe either. And I need you.
But I’ll be at the Women’s March. I will be at the Women’s March.”
So we kept quiet at the Jiffy Lube.
My historical trauma against her historical trauma.
I read the paper and she watched TV,
and when her oil was changed, she left.
She never looked at me. Not once.
And the day. The day.
Scream, a poem by Shonda Buchanan, was originally written for and read by the author at Angels Flight • literary west Black Resistance in the Time of Trump event at The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, February 24, 2018.
Shonda Buchanan is a professor, poet and writer living and working in Los Angeles. Author of Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country and Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? and editor of two poetry anthologies, Voices from Leimert Park and Voices from Leimert Park Redux, Buchanan’s family memoir, Black Indian, will be released by Wayne State University Press Spring 2019. Buchanan is the former Interim Chair/Assistant Professor of the Department of English & Foreign Languages at Hampton University and was the Fall 2017 Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at William & Mary College. As a culture and literary arts ambassador and lecturer, Buchanan has conducted workshops and presentations for the U.S. Government Accountability Organization, the U.S. Embassy of Kuala Lumpur/U.S. Department of State, the Athens Institute for Education and Research in Athens, Greece, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the Hampton Roads Writers Conference, the Poetry Society of Virginia and numerous other organizations. Her poetry and essays have been featured in numerous anthologies including The Seventh Wave, Urban Voices: 51 Poems from 51 American Poets, Silver Birch Press, Art Meets Literature: An Undying Love Affair, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, Geography of Rage: Remember the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, Catch the Fire!!! A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry, Rivendale, LongStoryShort and Voices from Leimert Park and Voices from Leimert Park Redux. Interviewed by CNN and NPR for the Harriet Tubman Press launch, Buchanan is also an Eloise Klein-Healy Scholarship recipient, a Sundance Institute fellow, Jentel Residency fellow and a PEN Center Emerging Voices fellow. She has received grants from Arts Midwest/National Endowment for the Arts, the California Community Foundation, a Mellon Foundation schoolwide grant and several Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grants. She has freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Michigan History Magazine, AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle, the Daily Press, Los Angeles Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the International Review of African American Art and Indian Country Today. She has commentated for Marketplace Radio, and was featured on WHRO’s HearSay and National Public Radio’s Tell Me More. As a journalist and professor, she engages issues of selfhood and human agency, race and ethnicity, class and gender, as well as technology and the environment. She is a recent Advisory Board member of Angeles Flight • literary west. For more information about Shonda Buchanan, visit www.shondabuchanan.com.
Photos: Shonda Buchanan reading “Scream” at The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, at Black Resistance in the Time of Trump, February 24, 2018, by David Franco / Francography