ODE TO “JOY SPRING”
Composition by Clifford Brown, jazz musician 1930–1956
I wish my father had
been friends with Clifford Brown,
had coupled his creative, impulsive fire
with Clifford’s waves of wisdom.
I wish they had known each other
before Clifford went to his last gig,
that fatal drive to Chicago
on a rainy night.
A gifted jazz trumpeter,
Clifford proved that cocaine wasn’t creating
the music, that heroin had no hold,
that drugs couldn’t attack
bebop notes, bend rhythms, couldn’t
sing scat, wasn’t the force that brought
healing melodies to a people
suffering from decades of pain.
I wish my father had sat in and
played his saxophone
with Clifford Brown. He could have
saved my father from the lie,
he could have
For His Family’s Reunion…
maybe you could make your mama’s Syrup Cake
to see if anyone will eat cake like that anymore.
You can make it the way her mama’s mama did
when folks used ribbon cane syrup
instead of sugar, and there wasn’t any
icing on it because it was a humble cake
that Mama would “whip up”
even though she was tired
from standing up all day in the factory
and shoulda been soaking her feet
in Epsom salt, but said,
“All day I’ve been having a taste for something sweet.”
Her Sunbeam mixer did most of the work,
but you helped, getting out a coffee cup
for one cup measurement,
and a soup spoon for a tablespoon,
and a cereal spoon
for a teaspoon.
Or maybe you could make your mama’s Yellow layer cake,
the fancy one, filled with pineapple preserves
and frosted with buttercream,
the one you would steal
slivers of, so no one passing by it would
suspect the cake was getting smaller
and smaller. To get at it, you had to
open the glass cabinet door just so,
pass that squeak that WD-40 would have fixed,
but your mother thought
you needed a man for that,
so you lived with the loud
squeaking doors and cabinets,
rather than tip toe around a man
“sweatin’ and stinkin’, demanding to be fed,
slappin’ womenfolk around whenever.”
Your mama said it always happened when
his own spirit got too heavy and weighed down,
and his hand got too light, swattin’ away
his powerlessness in her direction,
like she wasn’t his woman,
but a pest
flyin’ around his head,
getting in his way.
Or maybe you could make nothing,
bring nothing, save the syrup in the bottle
for soppin’ some cornbread,
the way Mama made it, with melted butter, fried fish on the side,
and leave the canister with no sugar in it, just
money you’ve been saving for
that rainy day when you find your mother’s footprints.
Then you’ll know it’s time
to grab the sugar canister
THE FERAL MOTHER
My metamorphosis began
long after he was one.
At a women’s rights meeting, a conversation
not even behind my back, about my son:
Should he be allowed here?
A meeting for females only?
He was already The Enemy,
just not fully grown,
but already branded.
So I took off his pink ovearlls
and put the doll with a penis away.
Then I wrapped him in Kenta cloth
around my body, and went searching
For the Sisterhood—
Black women who would help me
do my best to guide him into being
A Good Man.
But after all I have raised in him,
they are out there still
rifling through his life,
and one discovery of his imperfection
for being human in a fallen world,
one misstep could
Cynthia Robinson Young is a native of Newark, New Jersey, but now lives in the South. Her poetry has appeared in several journals including Sixfold, Poetry South, the Ekphrastic Review, and Catapula: a journal of Southern perspectives. She is an adjunct professor of Special Education in Georgia. For her chapbook, Migration (Finishing Line Press) she was named Finalist for the 2019 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the chapbook division.