• a.k. payne

gram's house

sons of cain crawl into this haven on hands and knees, praying for forgiveness. counting, counting, counting. [number of fingers on each hand. number of toes on each…hand. number of feet. two legs. one face. one face.] drunkenness traipses up the stairs to this brick house. precedes the son. precedes his pleas for mama to please open the goddamn front door. shit. fuck. promise i won’t curse inside. I just really got to piss. it’s raining hard and I gambled away your house key. mama. she most definitely is not washing your wounds. throws a clean towel into your bedroom cause she knows by instinct you ain’t washed clothes in weeks let alone your black ass. scrub behind those ears. why your neck so black. the bed is made though, folded back like she’s been waiting, or the house been waiting, or the streets been waiting. curse one more time in my house and…walls of your room complete her threat and this makes you more afraid. armies are lined up outside your bedroom window. you dare not cross a woman who has risen before the sun to converse with god.


before five a.m., brown boy joins the fold, followed north star ten miles to city streets; gram’s house is the closest he’s ever come to heaven. last night some white kid called him nigger and he busted open his nose.  he pulls shovel from garage to bury the kid’s big wheel beneath the earth. who is the nigger when the sun rises? mom promises retribution for the broken nose at dawn: in the suburbs, we make sacrifices. [we give whoopings to hold off murders. if I can teach him early how to make his body a shadow, unassuming, invisible, maybe I can catapult him to freedom.]  belts hung in hall closet haunt. she lays still as he creaks open the front door, watches him stroll down the street with the shovel and a compass he found in a cereal box. the city beckons. there he can become anonymous, transcend broken nose where sons of cain stalk everywhere. she lies in bed to sleep.


didn’t I tell you. didn’t I tell you. didn’t I tell you. gram ain’t wiping the ass of her grown, drunk son but her granddaughter’s cries of man’s manipulations bring her running. she knows about solitude relinquished and women’s bodies so she bans the sons from the sitting room and brews cups of tea in her fine china. sunrise casts shadows on plastic coated couches. poor brown girls can’t afford plan b. didn’t I tell you about the trap. some honeyed words with your apple butter toast. some man all up in your ear, buzzing. fly swatter all the way across the room, too far for you to reach before his hands are all up under your shirt. he said he loved me./ bet he’d say he loves peter piper to get all up in your pants. I don’t got no thirty dollars. you better pray god don’t wanna bring one more baby in the world today. the plastic squeaks when you shift and the house creaks too. somebody snores upstairs. here. this all I got. take it and make it work.


what hollow things you been hoarding under your bed? shut up; my stories are on. days of our lives. the young and the restless. your fort made of sheets is blocking the television. get out of my closet; those my good church hats. three generations scurry to the altar. forgiveness ain’t free; go to god for all that. the third time you arrive asking for money, she’s parsed out that you’re funding something unholy and she don’t want no parts. there ain’t no door always open. you better knock first; junkies rule the eighties. shut that screen fore you let all the flies in. this is home. for you. and you. and you. but I got memory like a woman who can’t afford to forget and you better learn quick that the world ain’t about to hold your hand. three generations pass through the sitting room before noon, cradling shit they found on the road. piece of broken glass. a gun she rips from palm. shovel encrusted. big wheel pedal. broken condom. night heaves herself onto plastic coated couches, purges her addictions in the backyard. flies carry news of rebirth. sons of cain note their own reflections and learn they are daughters of god. gram is no saint; when she can, she drops money in the collection plate and prays there is a heaven.



Flavia Payne (1922-2012)