If they label you soft, feather weight and white-livered,
if the locker room tosses back its sweaty head,
and laughs at how quiet your hands stay,
if they come to trample the dandelions roaring in your throat,
you tell them that you were forged inside of a woman
who had to survive fifteen different species of disaster
to bring you here,
and you didn’t come to piss on trees.
You ain’t nobody’s thick-necked pitbull boy,
don’t need to prove yourself worthy of this inheritance
of street-corner logic, this
blood legend, this
index of catcalls, “three hundred ways to turn a woman
into a three course meal”, this
legacy of shame, and man,
and pillage, and man,
and rape, and man. You boy.
You won’t be some girl’s slit wrists dazzling the bathtub,
won’t be some girl’s,
“I didn’t ask for it but he gave it to me anyway”,
the torn skirt panting behind the bedroom door,
some father’s excuse to polish his gun.
If they say, “Take what you want”, you tell them
you already have everything you need;
you come from scabbed knuckles
and women who never stopped swinging,
you come from men who drank away their life savings,
and men who raised daughters alone.
You come from love you gotta put your back into,
elbow-grease loving like slow-dancing on dirty linoleum,
you come from that house of worship.
Boy, I dare you to hold something like that. Love whatever feels most like your grandmother’s cooking.
Love whatever music looks best on your feet.
Whatever woman beckons your blood to the boiling point,
you treat her like she is the god of your pulse,
you treat her like you would want your father to treat me:
I dare you to be that much man one day.
That you would give up your seat on the train
to the invisible women, juggling babies and groceries.
That you would hold doors, and say thank-you,
and understand that women know they are beautiful
without you having to yell it at them from across the street. The day I hear you call a woman a “bitch”
is the day I dig my own grave.
See how you feel writing that eulogy.
And if you are ever left with your love’s skin trembling under your nails,
if there is ever a powder-blue heart
left for dead on your doorstep,
and too many places in this city that remind you of her tears,
be gentle when you drape the remains of your lives in burial cloth.
Don’t think yourself mighty enough to turn her into a poem,
or a song,
or some other sweetness to soften the blow,
I dare you to break like that. You look too much like your mother not to.