For a little bit I thought it was better. This was that time.
Met that man Stanford. Tall, he was a runner, and smarter, with a big smile, but skinny, but with muscles puffed under his dark warm skin. Think of those muscles sometimes like bread rising. Little biscuits. Loaves and buns. Shiny. That’s how I see it.
Then it all comes easy. Shiny all over. Putting buns in my oven. Between the sheets. He got sweaty. ‘Cause we feel like making love. Just like in songs. Like a lyric. He gets slick, shiny in me, and it felt happy. It was a bright time.
They go like that. Bright and dark. Sun up, sun down. It’s like that for me. Always moving. Days or weeks. Sometimes longer, maybe. Hard to remember. There’s no past to it. Just whatever, that way it is, that’s how it will be. Nothing outside the way it feels. That though, was a real bright time.
That time before there was a baby. This was baby making. Did I know it though? Maybe it’s why it felt so good. Like bright spots of happiness touching up in me and all over everything, like standing in the shower stream.
That’s all you need to know. All there is to see. No need to go to where or who or how he came to be. Even if Mom keeps asking, “Elizabeth! Was he at the park? Elizabeth! He come up at the grocery? Elizabeth! I told you don’t pay attention if anyone in that office building tries talking to you. One thing and one thing only. You just got a job to do.”
Well, well, well. Probably best you just don’t worry about how it comes to be. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty. Even if Mom says, “Ain’t nobody looking at you.”
It was real. Then there was a baby which hid inside me. Didn’t tell anybody. Just some days after only applesauce for breakfast: Vomit. Only oatmeal for breakfast: Vomit. Banana bread for breakfast: Vomit. I don’t have cereal for breakfast anyway cause milk will never ever agree.
One day, then it’s like thunder clouds rumble across my belly. But it’s not my bad breakfast. It’s a baby foot! That you can see! Sticking right out, right here, underside of my belly. Always was fat still didn’t mean to be hiding. Now I lift my shirt so Mom can see this little foot and she starts looking sad and angry. Whole face like a dark room. “So,” she says in one long sigh. “There’s gonna be a baby.”
Truthfully seemed like this wasn’t such a bad thing. It was still a bright time. Big bright baby growing in my belly. Seemed like things could go on like that. Happy forever maybe. Go to the park, the grocery, office cleaning, and always with a baby tucked inside me, like a kangaroo. It was like that too. Till her birthday. Suddenly so much more than a little foot thunder. That was firecrackers. Dozens of feet and hands stretching, pulling, scratching, stabbing, splitting me open. It felt angry.
After all that bright time growing it’s scary this part how it ends. Maybe it wasn’t ready. Seemed like something must be wrong. Not so. That’s how it goes. Then there’s this slick little thing screaming. To me, I’m not sure that seems human. More like something from a ghost story. And all that bright time it starts shrinking.
There’s some kind of look in Mom’s eyes as she stands in my hospital room holding this baby. “Elizabeth! Here she is.”
Small. All wrapped up but for a face that’s sort of froggy looking.
“It’s your baby.”
After, Nola, by Jasmine Mans
She be: North End, Northlawn, Northland, Nicky D’s.
She be: Hog Island, Hockeytown, Hitsville U.S.A.
She be: Temptation.
She be: Miracles, Supremes, Stevie wonder, Big Sean.
She be: bubba kush, Better Made, coney dog, corned beef.
She be: corner store, corner churches.
She be: Karen Clark-Sheard.
She be: BeBe, CeCe, Marvin, Mattie Moss.
She be: hoot, holler, hallelujah.
She be: heaven, healer, half-off, hand-me-down.
She be: hard-of-hearing, horny, homicidal.
She be: heatwave.
She be: harbinger, horseman, hellscape.
She be: hypodermic, hollow tip, honeypot.
She be: tittybar, traphouse, tax money.
She be: corruption, coercion, crime spree.
She be: cold.
She be: blizzard, beaver skins, border, bankrupt.
She be: foreclosure, for sale, forgotten, in flames.
She be: phoenix.
She be: rising, redux, rewritten.
She be: renaissance.
She be: whole.
She be: holy.
Her streets call me at all hours,
leaves no voicemails, jacks a Cadillac
& drives the near four-hundred miles
to bang on my screen door, wearing
her best bra. The one that separates
& lifts her nearer to God. My city:
a seductress with a pimp walk
& dead eyes. & yes, I love
the way those unresponsive pupils
take me in with the light, & the way
in which the light spreads itself thin,
leaving me to wander her dark expanse
alone, & how winter in her gaze
is the softest prison I know, & how
if I take her hand she will welcome me
to her table, slamming shut
my sole escape. But the tomb
will be warm, smell of RedPop &
BBQ Bettermades; Signed, Sealed,
Delivered spinning endlessly amid
distant buckshots & tire screeches
bending corners, & I will sleep
heavy like a newborn nursing in the
warm curve of momma’s arm.
Ebony Haight is a writer living in Oakland, California. She’s received support from Periplus Collective, Tin House, and Hedgebrook, and is working on a speculative memoir of queer love stories, set against the backdrop of her transracial adoption.
Raphael Jenkins prefers to go by Ralph, as he feels it suits him better and he’s heard every Ninja Turtle joke ever uttered. He’s a native of Detroit, Michigan currently residing in Kentucky with his Boo-thang and their six-year-old boy. He’s a chef by day and an essayist, poet, screenwriter in his dreams. He, like Issa Rae, is rooting for everybody Black. He is 2022 Periplus Fellow whose work is forthcoming or has been featured on his mama’s fridge, his close friends’ inboxes, Narrative Magazine, Frontier Poetry, The Adroit Journal, Rust + Moth and elsewhere. You can find all of his work here: https://linktr.ee/RALPHEEBOI