The skin of the toughest bovine—
Black, scorched by the sun, aged, and weathered—
has nothing on that of my grandparents,
whose hands
feel like, look like, worn leather.

Grandma’s hands
clap vehemently from the Holy pews
as if trying to cream the Devil himself
like a horsefly.
At home, they turn
pokeweed into potlikker.
Tender hands wash tender greens
patiently placating the hungry,
tactfully turning beans
and playing patty-cake with everybody’s young’uns.

Grandpa’s old ones
hardly ever leaf through the New Testament.
They’re meaty, rough, calloused, scarred.
A lifetime of work will do that.
The same hands that lift his razor
to trim a salt beard on a pepper face
raised me,

Twenty rutted fingers between the two of them.
That’s what Southern Is—
not broken, but kinked,
knobby, ashy, scored,
bald, matte.
They look like heaven at night.
Unapologetically black.
Willing to drop biscuits they know won’t rise
because some contexts don’t allow for progress
willing to pluck strange fruit after sunrise,
always tasked with cleaning up the mess.

Southern is a warm throat
and bulging stomach,
perpetual –itis.
Mmhs and ahhhs,
exasperated sighs,
a full people, unfulfilled—
My folks still being killed.

In Dixie, sweltering heat
makes the tea smack sweet
and low, like the people
who “bless your heart” at the steeple
then talk trash
once you pass. 

The South is shells:
Peanut, shotgun, peapod.
It’s kind of odd
that outer and inner differ
based on who is coming to dinner.

I beg, but my sweaty palms don’t belong
Outside of NorCal.
I don’t know how
to fit in
nothing looks more out of place
than when my and grandma’s fingers interlace.
A man with a manicure,
A lady, demure.

Papa’s café
swallows my au lait.
Whenever we shake limbs,
I’m lost without and within my kin.
And how do you navigate the world
when your family looks like the absence of light
and you’re told that you act, and look,

Sometimes we listen to Ray’s ebony tickle the ivory,
or BB fondle Lucille
and I think to myself…
What a wonderful world
to be a part of…
when you’re a brother or a sister,
a member of their family.

They are all part of a “Southern stock,”
a breed of folk
who are black.
As blue blooded as a colored person can be.
And I, a counterfeit from California,
how can I be like them
when my livelihood is lived through a screen
with keys darker than my flesh.
When I go to college
and learn everything but how to fix a back door,
when I commit the ultimate sin
against a society that values lineage more than anything.
I’m more a carpetbagger than a citizen of
M, I, Crooked-letter, Crooked-letter, I, Crooked-letter, Crooked-letter, I, Humpback, Humpback,
I, the origins of my kin.

Appal-is-ya, or appal-ain’t-ya part of this heritage?
The birds, the belles; hicks in the sticks;
Somewhere between Southern hospitality
and the uppity snobbery
of wrap-around verandas
is the hominy.
And in our homily, we pray for diversity
a move away from dichotomy

Decidedly un-Southern… but who’s making the decisions?
It feels like whoever is
won’t be for long,
as tamales appear on the plates of Natchez.

Sometimes I feel like an ex-pat in my own nation,
and an outsider among my own people
until I remember
Grandpa’s hands teaching me to scour banks for mudbugs
to be eaten at dinner, like he did as a kid,
and Grandma’s hands
working alongside my own
as I rolled my first pie crust.
Perhaps in the same way “home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”1
the South, too, is a feeling;
fullness, love, tradition,

and leather.

  1. James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room, (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2016) 86.
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