The Price of Being Alive in the Coat that I Wear

My parents tell me that as a little girl
I picked up paper money and yelled
“Mom look at this pretty cardboard!”

With a big smile on my face, I showed it to them

They laughed and I did too

I now know we were laughing at different things

They laughed as if to say if only it was just a pretty cardboard

If only it was as ugly and heavy as its history

Look at this pretty card board
Maybe it was the texture and how colorful it was
Maybe it was the size
Maybe it was the different time and place

A time when a dollar bill meant nothing but a pretty card board

It was a time when I did not know that somewhere in a far away place

A place I would soon call my home

People had decorated trees with bodies that look like my own

I would soon learn that they’ve turn them into shooting targets

They’ll tell me that he was reaching for his gun

They’ll say that he really wasn’t saying he couldn’t breath

Because see I have my hands around my throat and I can still breath

They’ll say they hung them because they did not respect the value of a dollar

So I’ve grown to respect it more than I want to

Look at this pretty cardboard

A dollar bill meant nothing but paper to little me
But now

Now I collect even pennies
A dollar has changed my brain

My brain has become like wires on a ticking bomb

Tick tick ticking bomb

I do not know which wire to cut in order to survive

But I know if I asked them for help, they would cut all the wires and let me explode

Because that would solve all their problems

For they have cut so many vocal cords to keep them from making a sound

They’ve cut countless tongues to keep them from speaking

I’ve grown to learn that now a dollar means different things that my little brain couldn’t grasp before

It means the price of being alive in the coat that I wear

Maybe it’s because of the rough coat my hands now wear  
Maybe it’s because my hands have grown so big so where...Where do I put them so I don’t provoke them?

So I don’t become a target?

My language of peace has been scraped from my tongue to make their vowels roll off my tongue smoothly

To make me an angry black woman

So they can find an excuse to practice their shooting skills

So I will say their vowels smoothly
For now a dollar means four quarters  

Five dimes

Twenty nickels
A hundred pennies
God do I love pennies
From dirt roads to concrete highways
The value of a dollar has changed
A dollar means a load of laundry
A dorm room
Ramen noodles for late nights
Or spicy noodles for those who have the tongue for it
A house or the lack of one
It means the smell of my mom’s cooking throughout the whole house
Smoke detectors singing to mom’s cooking
It means a meal
A dinner table
Lights that let my dad know as he pulls up after working late that somebody is home
It means heat for the coldest of winters
Air conditioning and lemonade for the hottest of summers
It means a tie for little brother to wear to Sunday school
It means offering
A birthday present
A graduation gift

A dollar means
Soccer cleats for my little sister
A bike helmet
Water to shower with after long bike rides
Washing machine to wash away our worries about the dollar

I now know the role of a dollar is not to be a pretty cardboard

It has become the pinpoint to which the world spins

Spinning in the wrong direction

“It’s building our economy” they say

They’ve created their slogan to paint us a picture of a nonexistent fairytale

They’ve painted it with our blood and tears and use the pavement as their canvass

“It’s building our economy” they say
The way a dollar builds anything is contradicting
A girl rents her body for a dollar in order to build financial stability
They sell and buy people for a dollar like food products to build their economy
They kick people out of their homes for the lack of a dollar and give the homeless a dollar because they don’t have a dollar for a home but they forgot that they’re the ones that kick them out in the first place
They say the economy is growing
When really it’s the collection of guns, debt, dead bodies and bad reputation
They are still stuck in the same place they were many guns ago
Stuck on a pattern they can not seem to break

Bang! Bang!

Stuck on a pattern they do not want to break
Their  money-grabbing hands have grown so big so they  want more

Place a gun in their hands and give them black bodies as practice targets
Using the guns they buy with the dollar they do not have
They’ll kill anything and everything for it
Somewhere in Zimbabwe an elephant minding its own business does not know how high it’s trophy value is
Somewhere a black boy does not know that when he’s walking home from school he’ll have to raise his hands and beg for his life

Here! Here!

Here! I do not know if that little boy will be my little brother walking home from Vernon Middle School
We all have a price tag on our heads
A dollar has always meant power

So they’ve reconstructed the history of my people long before my time
They continue to buy silence for the bodies they bury
For the families they separate
A dollar is not enough to share but it’s enough to build a wall right?
It has always meant violence
My bad, protection
TV programs to cover their misuse of the guns they buy with the dollar that they do not have

And to some a dollar has become a way to prove their love

To prove their bravery
Or simple stupidity
A boy says he would rob a bank to free his mama from their captivity
I say why must you do evil to do good
Why must you change to stay the same
Good boy don’t go stray
Stay on that dirt road you grew up knowing
I say black boy stay in your lane on that foreign concrete highway
The opportunity cost of switching lanes is way too high
Don’t get high on high hopes of getting away with it
Because even with your hands raised high
Their gun is just for protection right?

They tell you
Don’t waste your youth

Don’t give them a reason to empty their gun barrels

As if being black and breathing is a reason

Don’t be their practice target  

As if its a choice you’ve made

They tell you

Be small

Be small

Be small

Be small

Black boy be invisible

But I say brother

Be loud

Be loud

Be loud

Be loud

Be black!

Be you

Don’t give paper the power to cut your tongue into pieces
Don’t give them power to silence your voice and turn your body into a corpse

Because brother we have plenty of those

This poem is about: 
My family
My community
My country
Poetry Terms Demonstrated: 


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