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Acclaim for SAPPHIRE'S
"A s tunningly frank effort that marks the emergence of
an immensely promising writer."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Thrilling . . . [Push's] affecting combination of childÂ
like tenderness and adult rage leaves little doubt that
Sapphire's talents as a poet translate artfully into her
"[Sapphire] writes with a poet's ear for rhythms, in a
voice that pushes her story relentlessly into your mind."
"Sapphire is aptly named, for this powerful, poetic work
is a small gem."
"The beauty (and the risk) of this book is in its vivid,
imperfect harnessing of issues and acts of huge social
and moral consequences."
"Push . . . develops so richly and fearlessly that one cannot resist its power."
"[Precious's] voice is blunt and unadorned, sorrowful as
a foghorn and so wholly engulfing that despite its broÂ
ken words it generates single-handedly the moving
power of this novel."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Precious's story, told through her own unique style
and spelling, is a major achievement. It documents a
remarkable resilience of spirit."
"The miracle of Push is that, even at its most devastatÂ
ing, it is also a story about faith and possibility."
"To read the story [is] magic . . . [It is] paint-peelingly
profane and thoroughly real."
Sapphire was born in 1950 and spent her first
twelve years on army bases in California and
Texas . As a teenager she lived in South PhilaÂ
delphia and Los Angeles . She graduated from
City College in New York and received an
MFA from Brooklyn College. From 1983 to
1993 she lived in Harlem, where she taught
reading and writing to teenagers and adults .
Sapphire is a performance poet and the author
of two collections of poetry and prose,
She lives in New York City.
Black Wings & Blind Angels
FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION,
Copynght Â© 1996 by Sapphire/Ramona Lofton
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by
Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada
Limited, Toronto. Originally published in the United States
in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1996.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
for permission to reprint "Mother to Son" from
Poems by Langston Hughes, copyright Â©
1926 by Alfred A.
Knopf, Inc., copyright renewed 1954 by Langston Hughes.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as
Push I Sapphire.- 1st ed.
96- 165 16
Vintage ISBN: 0-679-76675-8
Random House Web address: http://www.randomhouse.com/
Printed in the United States of America
For children everywhere.
And for my teachers Eavan Boland,
James D. Merritt,
and most especially
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
ACKNO W LEDGMENTS
wish to thank and acknowledge Susan
Charlotte Sheedy, Neeti Madan, Catherine
McKinley, ] acqueline Woodson, Ellen Ray,
Sheilah Mabry, Eve Ensler, and Kimberly
I also wish to thank and acknowledge the
Millay Colony and The Write ï¿½s Room.
If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Ofyoung imagination have kept pure,
Stranger! henceforth be warned; and know, that pride,
Howe'er disguised in its own majesty,
Is littleness; that he who feels contempt
For any living thing, hath faculties
Which he has never used; that thought with him
Is in its infancy. The man, whose eye
is ever on himself, doth look on one,
The least ofnature 's works, one who might move
The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds
Unlawful, ever. 0, be wiser thou!
Instructed that true knowledge leads to love ...
Every blade ofgrass has its Angel that bends over it
and whispers, "Grow, grow."
I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby
for my fahver. That was in 1 983 . I was out of school for
a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got
Down Sinder. She's retarded. I had got left back in the
second grade too, when I was seven, 'cause I couldn't
read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the
eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf grade
so I can gone 'n graduate. But I'm not. I'm in the ninfe
I got suspended from school 'cause I'm pregnant
which I don't think is fair. I ain' did nothin' !
My name i s Claireece Precious Jones. I don't know
why I'm telling you that. Guess 'cause I don't know how
far I'm gonna go with this story, or whether it's even a
story or why I'm talkin'; whether I'm gonna start from
the beginning or right from here or two weeks from
now. Two weeks from now? Sure you can do anything
when you talking or writing, it's not like living when you
can only do what you doing. Some people tell a story 'n
it don't make no sense or be true. But I'm gonna try to
make sense and tell the truth, else what's the fucking
use? Ain' enough lies and shit out there already?
So, OK, it's Thursday, September twenty-four 1 987
and I'm walking down the hall. I look good, smell
good-fresh, clean. It's hot but I do not take off my
leather jacket even though it's hot, it might get stolen or
lost. Indian summer, Mr Wicher say. I don't know why
he call it that. What he mean is, it's hot, 90 degrees, like
summer days. And there is no, none, I mean none, air
conditioning in this mutherfucking building. The
building I'm talking about is, of course, I.S. 1 46 on
1 3 4th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton
Powell J r Blvd. I am walking down the hall from homeÂ
room to first period maff. 'Why they put some shit like
maff first period I do not know. Maybe to gone 'n git it
over with. I actually don't mind maff as much as I had
thought I would. I jus' fall in Mr Wicher's class sit
down. We don't have assigned seats in Mr Wicher's
class, we can sit anywhere we want. I sit in the same seat
everyday, in the back, last row, next to the door. Even
though I know that back door be locked. I don't say
nuffin' to him. He don't say nuffin' to me, now.First day
he say, "Clas ï¿½ turn the book pages to page 1 2 2 please." I
don't move. He say, "Miss Jones, I said turn the book
pages to page 1 2 2 . " I say, "Mutherfucker I ain't deaf! "
The whole class laugh. He turn red. He slam his han'
down on the book and say, "Try to have some disciÂ
pline." He a skinny little white man about five feets four
inches. A peckerwood as my mother would say. I look at
him 'n say, "I can slam too. You wanna slam? " 'N I pick
up my book 'n slam it down on the desk hard. The class
laugh some more. He say, "Miss jones I would appreciÂ
ate it if you would leave the room right NOW" I say,
"I ain' going nowhere mutherfucker till the bell ring. I
came here to learn maff and you gon' teach me. " He
look like a bitch just got a train pult on her. He don't
know what to do. He try to recoup, be cool, say, "Well,
if you want to learn, calm down-" "I'm calm," I tell
him. He say, "If you want to learn, shut up and open
your book. " His face is red, he is shaking. I back off.
I have won. I guess.
I didn't want to hurt him or embarrass him like that
you know. But I couldn't let him, anybody, know, page
1 2 2 look like page 1 52 , 2 2 , 3 , 6, 5-all the pages look
alike to me. 'N I really do want to learn. Everyday I tell
myself something gonna happen, some shit like on Tv.
I'm gonna break through or somebody gonna break
through to me-I'm gonna learn, catch up, be normal,
change my seat to the front of the class. But again, it has
not been that day.
But thas the first day I'm telling you about. Today is
not the first day and like I said I was on my way to maff
class when Mrs Lichenstein snatch me out the hall to
her office. I'm really mad 'cause actually I like maff even
though I don't do nuffin', don't open my book even. I
jus' sit there for fifty minutes. I don't cause trouble. In
fac' some of the other natives get restless I break on 'em.
I say, "Shut up mutherfuckers I'm tryin' to learn some-
thing." First they laugh like trying to pull me into
fuckin' with Mr Wicher and disrupting the class. Then I
get up 'n say, "Shut up mutherfuckers I'm tryin' to learn
something." The coons clowning look confuse, Mr
Wicher look confuse. But I'm big, five feet nine-ten, I
weigh over two hundred pounds. Kids is scared of me.
"Coon fool," I tell one kid done jumped up. "Sit down,
stop ackin' silly." Mr Wicher look at me confuse but
grateful. I'm like the polices for Mr Wicher. I keep law
and order. I like him, I pretend he is my husband and we
live together in Weschesser, wherever that is.
I can see by his eyes Mr Wicher like me too. I wish I
could tell him about all the pages being the same but I
can't. I'm getting pretty good grades. I usually do. I just
wanna gone get the fuck out of I.S. 146 and go to high
school and get my diploma.
Anyway I'm in Mrs Lichenstein's office. She's lookÂ
ing at me, I'm looking at her. I don't say nuffin'. Finally
she say, "So Claireece, I see we're expecting a little visÂ
itor." But it's not like a question, she's telling me. I still
don't say nuffin'. She staring at me, from behind her big
wooden desk, she got her white bitch hands folded
together on top her desk.
Everybody call me Precious. I got three namesÂ
Claireece Precious Jones. Only mutherfuckers I hate
call me Claireece.
"How'old are you Claireece?"
White cunt box got my file on her desk. I see it. I
ain't that late to lunch. Bitch know how old I am.
"Sixteen is ahh rather ahh"-she clear her throatÂ
"o/d to still be in junior high school."
I still don't say nuffin'. She know so much let her ass
do the talking.
"Come now, you are pregnant, aren't you ClairÂ
eece ? "
She asking now, a few seconds ago the hoe just knew
what I was.
She tryin' to talk all gentle now and shit.
"Claireece, I'm talking to you."
I still don't say nuffin'. This hoe is keeping me from
maff class. I like maff class. Mr Wicher like me in there,
need me to keep those rowdy niggers in line. He nice,
wear a dope suit every day. He do not come to school
looking like some of these other nasty ass teachers.
"I don't want to miss no more of maff class," I tell
stupid ass Mrs Lichenstein.
She look at me like I said I wanna suck a dog's dick
or some shit. What's with this cunt bucket? (That's
what my muver call women she don't like, cunt buckets.
I kinda get it and I kinda don't get it, but I like the way
it sounds so I say it too.)
I get up to go, Mrs Lichenstein ax me to please sit
down, she not through with me yet. But I'm through
with her, thas what she don't get.
"This is your second baby? " she says. I wonder what
else it say in that file with my name Â·on it. I hate her.
"I think we should have a parent-teacher conference
Claireece-me, you, and your mom."
"For what? " I say. "I ain' done nuffin'. I doose my
work. I ain' in no trouble. My grades is good. "
Mrs Lichenstein look at me like I got three arms or
a bad odor out my pussy or something.
What my muver gon' do I want to say. What is she
gonna do? But I don't say that. I jus' say, "My muver is
"Well maybe I could arrange to come to your
house-" The look on my face musta hit her, which is
what I was gonna do if she said one more word. Come
to my house! Nosy ass white bitch! I don't think so! We
don't be coming to your house in Weschesser or wherÂ
ever the fuck you freaks live. Well I be damned, I done
heard everything, white bitch wanna visit.
"Well then Claireece, I'm afraid I'm going to have
to suspend you-"
"For what! "
"You're pregnant and-"
"You can't suspend me for being pregnant, I got
rights ! "
"Your attitude Claireece is one of total uncooperaÂ
I reached over the desk. I was gonna yank her fat ass
out that chair. She fell backwards trying to get away from
me 'n started screaming, "SECURITY SECURITY! "
I was out the door and on the street and I could
still hear her stupid ass screaming, "SECURITY
"Precious! " That's my mother calling me.
I don't say nothin'. She been staring at my stomach.
I know what's coming. I keep washing dishes. We had
fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and
Wonder bread for dinner. I don't know how many
months pregnant I am. I don't wanna stand here 'n hear
Mama call me slut. Holler 'n shout on me all day like she
did the last time. Slut! Nasty ass tramp! What you been
doin'! Who! Who! WHOoooo like owl in Walt Disney
movie I seen one time. Whooo? Ya wanna know who-"Claireece Precious Jones I'm talkin' to you ! "
I still don't answer her. I was standing a t this sink the
last time I was pregnant when them pains hit, wump!
Ahh wump ! I never felt no shit like that before. Sweat
was breaking out on my forehead, pain like fire was eatÂ
ing me up. I jus' standing there 'n pain hit me, then pain
go sit down, then pain git up 'n hit me harder! 'N she
standing there screaming at me, "Slut! Goddam slut! You
fuckin' cow! I don't believe this, right under my nose.
You been high tailing it round here." Pain hit me again,
then she hit me. I'm on the floor groaning, "Mommy
please, Mommy please, please Mommy! Mommy!
Mommy! MOMMY! " Then she KICK me side of my
face! "Whore! Whore! " she screamin'. Then Miz West
live down the hall pounding on the door, hollering
"Mary! Mary! What you doin' ! You gonna kill that chile!
She need help not no beating, is you crazy! "
Mama say, "She shoulda tole me she was pregnant! "
"Jezus Mary, you didn't know. I knew, the whole
building knew. Are you crazy-"
"Don't tell me nothin' about my own chile-"
"Nine-one-one! Nine-one-one! Nine-one-one! "
Miz West screamin' now. She call Mama a fool.
Pain walking on me now. Jus' stomping on me. I
can't see hear, I jus' screamin', "Mommy! Mommy! "
Some mens, these ambulance mens, I don't see 'em
or hear 'em come in. But I look up from the pain and he
dere. This Spanish guy in EMS uniform. He push me
back on a cushion. I'm like in a ball from the pain. He
say, "RELAX!" The pain stabbing me wif a knife and
this spic talking 'bout relax.
He touch my forehead put his other hand on the
side of my belly. "What's your name?" he say. "Huh?" I
say. "Your name?" "Precious," I say. He say, "Precious,
it's almost here. I want you to push, you hear me momi,
when that shit hit you again, go with it and push,
And I did.
And always after that I look for someone with his face
and eyes in Spanish peoples. He coffee-cream color,
good hair. I remember that. God. I think he was god.
No man was never nice like that to me before. I ask at
the hospital behind him, "Where that guy help me? "
They say, "Hush girl you jus' had a baby. "
.But I can't hush 'cause they keep asking me
questions. My name? Precious Jones. Claireece PreÂ
cious Jones to be exact. Birth date? November 4, 1 970.
Where? "Here," I say, "right chere in Harlem HospiÂ
tal." "Nineteen seventy?" the nurse say confuse quiet.
Then she say, "How old are you?" I say, "Twelve. " I was
heavy at twelve too, nobody get I'm twelve 'less I tell
them. I'm tall. I jus' know I'm over two hundred 'cause
the needle on the scale in the bathroom stop there it
don't can go no further. Last time they want to weigh
me at school I say no. Why for, I know I'm fat. So what.
Next topic for the day.
But this not school nurse now, this Harlem Hospital
where I was horned, where me and my baby got tooked
after it was horned on the kitchen floor at 444 Lenox
Avenue. This nurse slim butter-color woman. She
lighter than some Spanish womens but I know she black.
I can tell. It's something about being a nigger ain't color.
This nurse same as me. A lot of black people with nurse
cap or big car or light skin same as me but don't know it.
I'm so tired I jus' want to disappear. I wish Miss Butter
would leave me alone but she jus' staring at me, her eyes
getting bigger and bigger. She say she need to get some
more information for the birth certificate.
It still tripping me out that I had a baby. I mean I
knew I was pregnant, knew how I got pregnant. I been
knowing a man put his dick in you, gush white stuff in
your booty you could get pregnant. I'm twelve now, I
been knowing about that since I was five or six, maybe I
always known about pussy and dick. I can't remember
not knowing. No, I can't remember a time I did not
know. But thas all I knowed. I didn't know how long it
take, what's happening inside, nothing, I didn't know
The nurse is saying something I don't hear. I hear
kids at school. Boy say I'm laffing ugly. He say,
"Claireece is so ugly she laffing ugly." His fren' say,
"No, that fat bitch is crying ugly. " Laff laff. Why I'm
thinking about those stupid boys now I don't know.
"Mother," she say. "What's your mother's name?" I
say, "Mary L Johnston" (L for Lee but my mother don't
like Lee, soun' too country). "Where your mother
born," she say. I say, "Greenwood, Mississippi." Nurse
say, "You ever been there?" I say, "Naw, I never been
nowhere." She say, "Reason I ask is I'm from GreenÂ
wood, Mississippi, myself. " I say, "Oh," 'cause I know
I'm spozed to say something.
"Father," she say. "What's your daddy's name?"
"Carl Kenwood Jones, born in the Bronx. "
She say, "What's the baby's father's name?"
I say, "Carl Kenwood Jones, born in the same
She quiet quiet. Say, "Shame, thas a shame. Twelve
years old, twelve years old," she say over 'n over like she
crazy (or in some shock or something). She look at me,
butter skin, light eyes-I know boyz love her. She say,
"Was you ever, I mean did you ever get to be a chile? "
Thas a stupid question, did I ever get to be a chile? I am
I'm confuse, tired. I tell her I want to sleep. She put
the bed down, I do go to sleep.
Somebody else there when I wake up. It's like the
police or something. Wanna ax me some questions. I axes,
"Where's my baby? I know I had one. I know that." New
somebody in nurse cap sweet-smile me and say, "Yes, you
did Miss Jones, you surely did." She moves the men in
uniform suits back from my bed. Say my baby is in special
intense care and I will get to see her soon and won't I
please answer the nice men's questions. But they ain' nice
men. They pigs. I ain' crazy. I don't tell them nothing.
"Precious! Precious! " my muver hollering but my head
not here, it in four years ago when I had the first baby. I
was standing at this sink when the pain hit me, and she
My hand slip down in the dishwater, grab the
butcher knife. She bedda not hit me, I ain' lyin' ! If she
hit me I will stab her ass to clef, you hear me!
"Precious! You done lost your mind? Just standing
up there staring into spaces. I'm talkin' to you! "
Like thas something.
"I was thinkin'," I say.
"You thinkin' while I'm talkin' to you?"
She say this like I'm burnin' hunnert dollar bills.
The buzzer ring. I wonder who it could be. Don't
nobody ring our bell 'less it's crack addicts trying to get
in the building. I hate crack addicts. They give the race
a bad name.
"Go tell them assholes to stop ringing the bell," she
say. She closer to the door than me but I mean my
muver don't move 'less she has to. I mean that. When I
go to answer the buzzer I realize I'm still grabbing the
knife. I hate my muver sometimes. She is ugly I think
I press TALK on the intercom and holler, "Stop ringÂ
ing the goddam buzzer mutherfucker! " and go back to
the kitchen to finish the dishes.
The buzzer ring again. I go back. "Stop ringing the
goddam buzzer," I say again. The mutherfucker ring
again. "Stop it! " It ring again. "STOP IT! " I shout
again. It ring again. My muver jump in and say, "Press
LISTEN stupid! " I wanna say I ain' stupid but I know I
am so I don't say nothin', 'cause also I don't want her to
go hit me, 'cause I know from my hand in the dishwater
holding the butcher knife, I am through being hit. I am
going to stab her she ever hit Precious Jones again. I
press LISTEN. "It's Sondra Lichenstein for Claireece
Jones and Ms Mary Johnston." Mrs Lichenstein! What
that hoe want? She want me to hit her for real this time.
"Who that Precious?" my muver say. I say, "White
bitch from school." "What she want?" my muver say. "I
don't know. " "Ask her," my muver say. I press TALK 'n say,
"What you want? " Then I press LISTEN and Mrs LichenÂ
stein say, "I want to talk to you about your education."
This bitch crazy. I was going to school everyday till her
honky ass snatch me out the hall, fuck with my mind,
make me go off on her, suspend me from school jus'
because I'm pregnant-you know, end up my education.
Now her white ass out on Lenox Avenue talkin' 'bout she
wanna talk to me about my education. Lord where is
crack addicts when you need 'em. "What all this about
Precious? " my muver asks. My muver don't want no
white shit like Mrs Lichenstein social worker teacher ass
nosing around here. My muver don't want to get cut off,
welfare that is. And that's what white shit like Mrs
Lichenstein comin' to visit result in. If I wasn't pregnant
and having trouble with the stairs, I run down and kick
her ass. My muver say, "Eighty-six that bitch. " I says into
the intercom, "Hasta la vista, baby." That's Spanish for
good-bye but when niggers say it, it's like, kiss my ass.
Ring go buzzer again. I don't believe this retarded hoe.
I press TALK 'n say, "Git outta here Mrs Lichenstein 'fore
I kick your ass." The bell go ring. I press LISTEN.
"Claireece I am so sorry about Thursday. I had only
wanted to help you. I . . . Mr Wicher says you're one of
his best students, that you have an aptitude for math."
She pause like she thinking what to say next, then she say,
"I've called a Ms McKnight at Higher Education AlterÂ
native/Each One Teach One. It's an alternative school."
She pause again, say, "Claireece, are you listening? " I
press TALK. "Yeah," I say. "OK, as I was saying I've called
Ms McKnight at Each One Teach One. It's located on
the nineteenth floor of the Hotel Theresa on 1 2 5 th
Street. That's not too far from here." I press TALK. "I
know where the Hotel Theresa is," I say to her, Bitch, I
say to myself. I press LISTEN again, these crackers think
you don't know no thin'. She say, "The phone number is
5 5 5-083 1 . I told them about you." Mrs Lichenstein stop.
"Call or just drop in, the nineteenth floor-" I press TALK
tell her I heard her the first time. My heart is all warmÂ
half of it at least-thinking about Mr Wicher say I'm a
good student. The other half could jus' jump out my
chest and kick Mrs Lichenstein's ass. No more rings-so
I guess that mean she got the message.
I go to sleep thinking nineteenth floor Hotel TheÂ
resa, an alternative. I don't know what an alternative is
but I feel I want to know. Nineteenth floor, that's the
last words I think before I go to sleep. I dream I'm in an
elevator that's going up up up so far I think I'm dying.
The elevator open and it's the coffee-cream-colored
man from Spanish talk iand. I recognize him from when
I was having my baby bleeding on the kitchen floor. He
put his hand on my forehead again and whisper, "Push,
Precious, you gonna hafta push."
I wake up remembering the last time I pushed. It was
two whole days before they brought the baby to me, 'n
I git to see what "a little trouble breathing" mean. I try
to hold out my arms but I'm tired, more tired than I
ever been in my life. Nurse Butter and this little black
nurse is standing there by my bed. The black nurse
holding the baby. Nurse Butter reach under the covers
and take my hands. I ball 'em in fist. She rub her hands
over my fist till I open them. Nurse Butter look other
nurse in eye and the dark-skinned nurse go to hand me
my baby but Butter jump up and take it from her.
"Something is wrong with your baby," Nurse Butter
make talk like how pigeons talk, real soft, coo coo,
"but she's alive. And she's yours." 'N she hand me
baby. Baby's face is smashed flat like pancake, eyes is all
slanted up like Koreans, tongue goin' in 'n out like some
"Mongoloid," other nurse say. Nurse Butter look
hard at her.
"What happen? " I ax.
"Well, a lot of things," she say. "The doctor will talk
in more depth with you, Ms Jones. It looks like your
baby may have Down's syndrome and have suffered
some oxygen deprivation at birth. Plus you're so young,
things happen more to the very young-" She ax me,
"Did you see a doctor at all while you were pregnant? "
I don't answer her nuffin', jus' hold out baby for her
to take.- Nurse Butter nod to little black nurse who take
baby away. Nurse Butter hike herself up on side of the
bed. She tryin' to hole me in her arms. I don't want
that. She touch side of my face. "I'm so sorry, Ms ]ones,
so so sorry. " I try to turn away from her Mississippi self
but she in the bed now pulling my chest and shoulders
into her arms. I can smell her lotion smell and Juicy
Fruit gum breath. I feel warm kindness from her I never
feel from Mama and I start to cry. A little at first, then
on and on, everything hurt-between my legs, the
black-blue on the side of my head where Mama kick
me, but Butter don't see it and she squeezing me there.
I crying for ugly baby, then I forget about ugly baby, I
crying for me who no one never hold before. Daddy put
his pee-pee smelling thing in my mouth, my pussy, but
never hold me. I see me, first grade, pink dress dirty
sperm stuffs on it. No one comb my hair. Second grade,
third grade, fourth grade seem like one dark night. Carl
is the night and I disappear in it. And the daytimes don't
make no sense. Don't make sense talking, bouncing
balls, filling in between dotted lines. Shape? Color?
Who care whether purple shit a square or a circle,
whether it purple or blue? What difference it make
whether -gingerbread house on top or bottom of the
page. I disappears from the day, I jus' put it all downÂ
book, doll, jump rope, my head, myself. I don't think I
look up again till EMS find me on floor, and now this
little nurse telling me, "Look at me, sweetie, you gonna
get through this. You really are gonna get through
I look at her but see Mama's shoe coming at the side
of my head like a bullet, Carl's dick-dangle dangle in my
face and now the flat-face baby with eyes like Koreans.
"How," I ax her, "how? "
After I come home from hospital baby go live over on
1 50th and St Nicholas Avenue with my grandmother,
even though Mama tell welfare the baby live with us
and she care of it while I'm in school. About three
months after baby born, I'm still twelve when all this
happen, Mama slap me. HARD. Then she pick up castÂ
iron skillet, thank god it was no hot grease in it, and she
hit me so hard on back I fall on floor. Then she kick me
in ribs. Then she say, "Thank you Miz Claireece PreÂ
cious Jones for fucking my husband you nasty little
slut! " I feel like I'm gonna die, can't breathe, from
where I have baby start to hurt.
"Fat cunt bucket slut! Nigger pig bitch! He done
quit me! He done left me 'cause of you. What you tell
them mutherfuckers at the damn hospital? I should
KILL you ! " she screaming at me.
I'm lying on the floor shaking, crying, scared she
gonna kill me. "Get up Miss Hot-to-Trot," Mama say.
"Git your Jezebel ass up and fix some dinner 'fore I give
you something to cry about." So I get up from floor and
fix dinner. I fix collard greens and ham hocks, corn
bread, fried apple pies, and macaroni 'n cheese. I'm in
the kitchen two hours, I know that, even though I don't
tell time so good, 'cause man on the radio say four
o'clock, tell some news, play music, and by the time I'm
fixing Mama's plate man say six o'clock. My neck,
shoulder, and back feel like cars is riding over them. I
carry Mama a plate, set it in front her on TV tray.
"Where's yours?" Mama shout.
"I'm not hongry," I tell her.
Devil red sparks flashes in Mama's eyes, big crease in
her forehead git deeper. I'm scared. "I . . . my shoulder
hurt . . . I wanna lay down."
"Ain' nothin' wrong with your shoulder, I barely
touched you! Go get a plate and stop acting stupid 'fore
I do hurt your shoulder."
I go back to the kitchen and fix myself a plate. Mama
holler, "Margarine! Bring me some margarine and hot
sauce. " So I bring her the margarine and the hot sauce.
Then I go git my plate and sit down with her. Greens,
corn bread, ham hocks, macaroni 'n cheese; I eat 'cause
she say eat. I don't taste nothin'. The pain in my shoulÂ
der is throbbing me, shooting up my neck. Some white
people is smiling and kissing on television. "Oh ain't he
cute! " Mama going ape over black guy in beer commerÂ
cial. I don't like beer. "Git me some more." Mama push
her plate toward me. " 'N git you some more-"
"I don't want no more."
"Did you hear me?"
So I get up, take her and my plate to the kitchen. I'm
so full I could bust. I look at Mama. Scare me to look at
her. She take up half the couch, her arms seem like
giant arms, her legs which she always got cocked open
seem like ugly tree logs. I bring her plate back. "Ain' no
"Yeah," I say.
"Bring me a few when you bring your plate back and
hurry up 'fore I kick your stupid ass!"
So back to the kitchen, git her pies, pile my own
plate higher than the first time, know if I don't she just
gonna make me go back again. I sit her pies down on
the tray. Try not to look at her. Try to watch the white
people on TV running on the beach sand. Try not to
see grease running down Mama's chin, try not to see
her grab whole ham hock wif her hand, try not to see
myself doing the same thing. Eating, first 'cause she
make me, beat me if I don't, then eating hoping pain in
my neck back go away. I keep eating till the pain, the
gray TV light, and- Mama is a blur; and I just fall back
on the couch so full it like I'm dyin' and I go to sleep,
like I always do; almost. Almost, go to sleep; it's the pain
in my shoulder keep me from totally conking out this
time. I feel Mama's hand between my legs, moving up
my thigh. Her hand stop, she getting ready to pinch me
if I move. I just lay still still, keep my eyes close. I can
tell Mama's other hand between her legs now 'cause the
smell fill room. Mama can't fit into bathtub no more.
Go sleep, go sleep, go to sleep, I tells myself. Mama's
hand creepy spider, up my legs, in my pussy. God
please! Thank you god I say as I fall asleep.
I'm twelve, no I was twelve, when that shit happen. I'm
sixteen now. For past couple of weeks or so, ever since
white bitch Lichenstein kick me outta school shit, 1 983
and 1 987, twelve years old and sixteen years old, first
baby and this one coming, all been getting mixed up in
my head. Mama jus' hit me wif fryin' pan? Baby, brandÂ
new and wrapped in white blankets, or fat and dead
eyed lying in crib at my grandmother's house. EveryÂ
thing seem like clothes in washing machine at laundry
mat-round 'n round, up 'n down. One minute Mama's
foot smashing into side of my head, next I'm jumping
over desk on Mrs Lichenstein's ass.
But now, right now, I'm standing at the sink finishÂ
ing the dishes. Mama sleep on couch. It's Friday, OctoÂ
ber sixteen, 1 987. I got to get through Saturday and
Sunday 'fore I get to Monday-the alternative.
"School?" Mama say. "Go down to welfare, school can't
help you none, now." Lady at Lane Bryant on one-twoÂ
five call these leggings YELLOW NEON. I'm wearing
them and my X sweatshirt. Put some Vaseline on my
face, nuffin' I can do about my hair till I git some
money to git my braids put back in. I look at my poster
of Farrakhan on the wall. Amen Allah! Radio clock
glowing red 8:30 a.m. Time to go!
Mama sleep. I be back before she wake up, back in
time to clean up and fix breakfast for Mama. Why
Mama never do anything? One time I ax her, when I get
up from her knocking me down, she say, That's what
you here for.
I is goin' down to the nineteenth floor of the Hotel
Teresa to the all-tur-nah-TIVE! Reeboks, white! Better
than Nikes? No, next shits I get b e Nikes! Green
leather jacket, keys. I is going, got my hand on the
"Where you going? " Mama holler from her room.
Why ain' her fat ass sleep? I don't say nuffin'. Fuck
"You hear me talking to you!" I start undoing locks
on the front door. It's four of 'em. "Precious! " Fuck you
bitch. lze gone. The staircase so skinny both sides of
me touch some part of building when I'm going down
the stairs. Maybe after I have baby I lose some weight.
Maybe I get my own place.
When I step out in morning Lenox is jumping with
cars, gypsy cabs, and buses. Delivery trucks is parked in
front the supermarket and the McDonald's on corner of
1 3 2nd. Men, women, and kids waiting at bus stop to go
to school and downtown to work. Wonder where they go
to work? Where I gonna go to work, how I'm gonna get
out HER house? I hate her. Come to 1 2 6th Street, across
the street Sylvia's. I ain't got no money. African vendors
out on street wif they stuff-leather purses and African
clothes and earrings from cow' shells, stuff like that.
I'm walking slow slow now. No one say nuffin' to me
now my belly big. No "Yo Big Mama" 'n "all dat meat
and no potatoes" shit. I'm safe. Yeah, safe from dese
fools on the street but am I safe from Carl Kenwood
Jones? This is my second baby for my daddy, it gonna
be retarded too?
This time I know Mama know. Umm hmmm, she
know. She bring him to me. I ain' crazy, that stinky hoe
give me to him. Probably thas' what he require to fuck
her, some of me. Got to where he jus' come in my room
any ole time, not jus' night. He climb on me. Shut up!
he say. He slap my ass, You wide as the Mississippi,
don't tell me a little bit of dick hurt you heifer. Git usta
it, he laff, you is usta it. I fall back on bed, he fall right
on top of me. Then I change stations, change bodies, I
be dancing in videos! In movies! I be breaking, fly, jus' a
dancing! Umm hmm heating up the stage at the Apollo
for Doug E. Fresh or AI B. Shure. They love me ! Say
I'm one of the best dancers ain' no doubt of or about
"I'm gonna marry you," he be saying. Hurry up,
nigger, shut up! He mess up dream talkin' 'n gruntin'.
First he mess up my life fucking me, then he mess up
the fucking talkin'. I wanna scream, Oh shut up! NigÂ
ger, how you gonna marry me and you is my daddy. I'm
your daughter, fucking me illegal. But I keep my mouf
shut so's the fucking don't turn into a beating. I start to
feel good; stop being a video dancer and start coming. I
try to go back to video but coming now, rocking under
Carl now, my twat jumping juicy, it feel good. I feel
shamed. "See, see," he slap my thigh like cowboys do
horses on Tv, then he squeeze my nipple, bite down on
it. I come some more. "See, you LIKE it! You jus' like
your mama-you die for it! " He pull his dick out, the
white cum stuff pour out my hole wet up the sheets.
"Are you getting on the bus, yoUn.g lady? " I blink at
bus driver staring down at me. He shake his head, bus
door close. I'm leaning against glass panel of bus stop. I
stare at 1 0 1 bus disappearing down I 2 5 th Street. How I
git here? What I'm doing on one-two-five at this time
of morning? I look down at my feet, my eyes catch on
my leggings, NEON YELLOW, of course! AlternaÂ
tive! I'm on my way, was on my way, walking down
Lenox when bad thoughts hit me 'n I space out.
"You OK? " guy in a uniform for like working in a
garage ax me.
"I'm OK, I'm OK." People done started to gather
"That bitch crazy man ! " a skinny dude in baggies
say real loud to tall boy next to him.
"Fuck you narrow behind mutherfucker! Mind your
bizness ! " I break out from them, cross 1 2 5th Street, and
head for Hotel Theresa. I done passed it a hunnert
times but never been in it. I walk through the doors,
past man at desk, he don't say nuffin' to me, I don't say
nuffin' to him. It's a elevator wif black doors. I step
inside, stand there. Don't go nowhere. Push the button,
stupid, I tell myself. I push the button; I'm not stupid, I
I step out the elevator and see this lady with cornrow
hair sitting at desk. White sign black letters on the
"This the alternative? " I ax.
"The what?" She lift eyebrows.
"This the alternative?" That bitch heard me the first
"What exactly are you looking for? " woman nice
"Well, what is this here?"
"This is Higher Education Alternative/Each One
"I'm looking for alternative school."
"Well," woman look at me some more, "this is an
I never seen nobody wif braids that don't hang
down. Why git 'em put in if you not gonna get extenÂ
"What alternative is?" Mayest wellst gone ask the
bitch, fine out now what kinda school this gonna be.
"I don't know if I understand what you're asking
"Alternative-lady from my other school tell me to
come here to Hotel Theresa, nineteenth floor, it's
"OK, OK," she say, "Each One Teach One is an
alternative school and an alternative is like a choice, a
different way to do something."
"What school did you come from? "
"From I.S. 146."
"That's a junior high school, isn't it? "
"You need discharge papers from your old school
saying they have formally discharged you or we can't
allow you in the program. "
"I got kicked out 'cause I was pregnant-"
"Yes, yes, I understand but you still need formal discharge papers or we can't let you in. It's the law."
"Mrs. Lichenstein ain' say all that."
"Oh you're the one Mrs Lichenstein called about. "
"What she say? "
She answer like she talking to herself, "Said to be on
the lookout for you, you might be coming our way."
She fumble with some papers on her desk. "Are you
Claireece P. Jones? "
"Thas' me. " S o they was really on the lookout for
me? Thas' kinda nice.
"Well the principal at I.S. 146 already sent your disÂ
charge papers and stuff over."
"Your academic record-" The woman stop stare at
me. "Are you all right? "
"They done sent my file ! " I almost spit it, it make
me so mad.
"Well, we had to have ahh certain information
before we could accept you into the program. Our stuÂ
dents have to meet certain income, residential, and
academic requirements before we can let them in the
program. So really their sending your records over was
just a way of speeding things up for you."
I wonder what exactly do file say. I know it say I got
a baby. Do it say who Daddy? What kinda baby? Do it
say how pages the same for me, how much I weigh,
fights I done had? I don't know what file say. I do know
every time they wants to fuck wif me or decide someÂ
thing in my life, here they come wif the mutherfucking
file. Well, OK, they got file, know every mutherfucking
thing. So what's the big deal, let's get it on.
"Can I start today? "
01' Cornrows' eyebrows go up. "Well of course,"
she say, "I mean we have an entry procedure but most
of that has actually been completed for you. The only
thing we really need is income verification. Are you
currently receiving AFDC?"
Eyebrows up again, she look down nose over glasses.
"My muver get AFDC for me and my daughter. "
"Oh you've had amniocentesis? " She looking at my
"You said your mother was receiving a check for you
and your daughter? " She nod her head to my stomach.
"Not this baby! I got another one 'sides this comÂ
"Oh, I see, so your mother has custody of you and
your daughter, in other words you're on her 'budget.' "
"Umm hmm." This bitch ain' no dummy.
"OK, well I need a copy of your mother's budget, a
current phone or utilities bill, OK? "
"OK. " I stare at her hard. "I got to go get all that
"No, no relax, we're gonna give you a few tests; test
your reading and math level, see whether to put you in
pre-G.E.D. or G.E.D."
"What's the ,difference? "
"Well G.E.D. classes are for students whose basic
skills are up to par and they're ready to just go into a
class and start working on their G.E.D. Pre-G.E.D. is
when the student needs some work to get to the level of
the G.E.D . class. "
"What level that? "
"Well, to enter G.E.D. classes a student should be
able to read on an eighth-grade level. They should
score 8.0 or better on the TABE reading test. "
"I was in the ninfe grade at I . S . 1 46."
"Then,'ï¿½ Cornrows smile at me, "you should have no
"What's. the problem? " I axes the fat dark-skin woman
who is looking over my shoulder at my answer sheet.
She got leggings like mine 'cept hers black. She got on
blue blouse, look nice, like silk. She look OK I guess. I
like light-skin people, they nice. I likes slim people too.
Mama fat black, if I weigh two hundred she weigh
three. The fat lady is looking at me. I looks back, she
ain' answered my question.
"What's the problem? " I axes again.
"Well I think maybe you may need to take the test
"You the teacher? "
"One o f them."
"What you teach?"
"I teach the G.E.D. class."
"Who the other teacher? "
"Ms Rain. "
"What she teach?"
"Ms Rain teaches the pre-G.E.D. reading class."
I know thas where I b'long, "Thas where I b'long," I
"Hmmm," go fat black heifer and look at me. I don't
believe this bitch no teacher.
"Do you want to take the test again? "
For me this nuffin' new. There has always been someÂ
thing wrong wif the tesses. The tesses paint a picture of
me wif no brain. The tesses paint a picture of me an' my
muver-my whole family, we more than dumb, we
invisible. One time I seen us on Tv. It was a show of
spooky shit, an' castles, you know shit be all haunted.
And the peoples, well some of them was peoples and
some of them was vampire peoples. But the real peoples
did not know it till it was party time. You know crackers
eating roast turkey and champagne and shit. So it's five
of 'em sitting on the couch; and one of 'em git up and
take a picture. Got it? When picture develop (it's instaÂ
matic) only one person on the couch. The other peoples
did not exist. They vampires. They eats, drinks, wear
clothes, talks, fucks, and stuff but when you git right
down to it they don't exist.
I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, watch Tv, do
what my muver say. But I can see when the picture
come back I don't exist. Don't nobody want me. Don't
nobody need me. I know who I am. I know who they
say I am-vampire sucking the system's blood. Ugly
black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed,
finded a job for.
I wanna say I am somebody. I wanna say it on subÂ
way, Tv, movie, LOUD. I see the pink faces in suits
look over top of my head. I watch myself disappear in
their eyes, their tesses. I talk loud but still I don't exist.
I see it over and over, the real people, the people
who show up when the picture come back; and they are
pritty people, girls with little titties like buttons and
legs like long white straws. Do all white people look
like pictures? No, 'cause the white people at school is
fat and cruel like evil witches from fairy tales but they
exist. Is it because they white? If Mrs Lichenstein who
have elephant stomach and garbage smell from her
pussy exist, why don't I? Why can't I see myself, feel
where I end and begin. I sometimes look in the pink
people in suits eyes, the men from bizness, and they
look way above me, put me out of their eyes. My fahver
don't see me really. If he did he would know I was like a
white girl, a real person, inside. He would not climb on
me from forever and stick his dick in me 'n get me
inside on fire, bleed, I bleed then he slap me. Can't he
see I am a girl for flowers and thin straw legs and a place
in the picture. I been out the picture so long I am used
to it. But that don't mean it don't hurt. Sometimes I
pass by store window and somebody fat dark skin, old
looking, someone look like my muver look back at me.
But I know it can't be my muver 'cause my muver is at
home. She have not left home since Little Mongo was
born. Who I see? I stand in tub sometime, look my
body, it stretch marks, ripples. I try to hide myself, then
I try to show myself. I ax my muver for money to git my
hair done, clothes. I know the money she got for meÂ
from my baby. She usta give me money; now every time
I ax for money she say I took her husband, her man.
Her man? Please ! Thas my mutherfuckin' fahver! I
hear her tell someone on phone I am heifer, take her
husband, I'm fast. What it take for my muver to see me?
Sometimes I wish I was not alive. But I don't know how
to die. Ain' no plug to pull out. 'N no matter how bad I
feel my heart don't stop beating and my eyes open in
the morning. I hardly have not seen my daughter since
she was a little baby. I never stick my bresses in her
mouth. My muver say what for? It's outta style. She say
I never do you. What that child of yours need tittie for?
She retarded. Mongoloid. Down Sinder.
What tess say? I don't give a fuck. I look bitch
teacher woman in face, trying to see do she see me or
the tess. But I don't care now what anybody see. I see
something, somebody. I got baby. So what. I feel proud
'cept it's baby by my fahver and that make me not in
Is she saying something? It's teacher woman, "Would
you like to take the test again? "
I shake my head no. What for, it gonna be the same,
I ain't change. I still me, Precious. She say I in first class
which meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to
1 2 noon. I say, "I usta going to school everyday all day."
She asks me if I could get use to something else. I don't
say nuffin', then I say loud, "YES."
First thing I see when I wake up is picture of Farrakhan's
face on the wall. I love him. He is against crack addicts
and crackers. Crackers is the cause of everything bad. It
why my father ack like he do. He has forgot he is the
Original Man! So he fuck me, fuck me, beat me, have a
chile by me. When he see I'm pregnant the first time he
disappear. I think for years, for a long time I know that
After my baby and me come out of the hospital my
muver take us down to welfare; say I is mother but just a
chile and she taking care of bofe us' es. So really all she
did was add my baby to her budget. She already on the
'fare wit' me so she just add my daughter. I could be on
the 'fare for myself now, I think. I'm old enuff. I'm 1 6.
But I'm not sure I know how to be on my own. I have to
say sometimes I hate my muver. She don't love me. I
wonder how she could love Little Mongo (thas my
daughter). Mongo sound Spanish don't it? Yeah, thas
why I chose it, but what it is is short for Mongoloid
Down Sinder, which is what she is; sometimes what I feel
I is. I feel so stupid sometimes. So ugly, worth nuffin'. I
could just sit here wif my muver everyday wif the shades
drawed, watching Tv, eat, watch Tv, eat. Carl come
over fuck us' es. Go from room to room, slap me on my
ass when he through, holler WHEEE WHEEE! Call
me name Butter Ball Big Mama Two Ton of Fun. I hate
hear him talk more than I hate fuck. Sometimes fuck feel
good. That confuse me, everything get swimming for
me, floating like for days sometimes. I just sit in back
classroom, somebody say something I shout on 'em, hit
'em; rest of the time I mine my bizness. I was on my way
to graduate from I.S. 146 'n then fuckface Miz LichenÂ
stein mess shit up. I . . . , in my inside world, I am so
pretty, like a advertisement girl on commercial, 'n someÂ
one ride up here in car, someone look like the son of that
guy that got kilt when he was president a long time ago
or Tom Cruise-or anybody like that pull up here in a
car and I be riding like on TV chile-JeeZUS ! It's 8 a.m.
o'clock! I know I woketed up at 6 a.m., lord where the
time go! I got to get dress for school. I got to be at school
by 9 a.m. Today is first day. I been tessed. I been incomed
eligible. I got Medicaid card and proof of address. All
that shit. I is ready. Ready for school. School something
(this nuthin ' !). School gonna help me get out dis house. I
gotta throw some water on my ass and git up. What I'm
gonna wear what I'm gonna wear? One thing I do got is
clothes, thanks to my muver's charge at Lane Bryant 'n
man sell hot shit. Come to building go from door to
door, I got your size he call out in hallway I got your size.
I got to get dress. I wear my pink stretch pants? I think