Jawanza Phoenix

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High School Memory #1

In high school, during breaks, one of my white friends and I would
sneak off to a wooded area behind the track field to chew tobacco,
smoke and listen to punk rock and reggae.  We hated the status quo or
anything “normal.”  We didn’t understand why everyone wore
the same designer jeans and inserted the word “like” into
every sentence.  We blasted unpopular music on boom boxes,
carried skateboards before skateboarding was a thing, and
wore clothes that never matched. 

High School Memory #2

Tired of being picked on and bullied by bigger and stronger kids, I bought a
.22 caliber pistol from a friend of a friend and gold-colored bullets from
Montgomery Ward.  I wrapped it in a jacket and carried it with me on the
school bus, waiting for one of them to fuck with me again.  The twenty minute
bus ride was filled with laughter, gossip and boom boxes playing hip-hop and
go-go, but it wasn’t all fun.  We were bused across town to a wealthy white
neighborhood by laws that aimed to desegregate. This led to resentment by both
blacks and whites, feelings of inferiority and black rage. There were many bullies
and many fights between black and white kids, but it was the black-on-black fights
that were the most bloody and violent, almost as if we were trying to beat the black
out of each other in an attempt to become white.  I never had to use the gun.
I never even brandished it or told anyone I had it.  But it gave me a new found
confidence and fire in my eyes. Like magic, the bullying stopped.  

The Co-Worker

I see a co-worker staring out a window looking at nothing in particular.  Her usual light is extinguished from her face and her slouched shoulders suggest defeat.  I ask her if anything is wrong.  She lies.  I ask again.  She lies again.

I am on dangerous ground.  Male-female relationships in the workplace are not the same since the #MeToo movement began.  People don’t share anymore and I can’t afford to be falsely accused of anything. 

I mean her no harm, I am here to listen, I am not the enemy, she can lean on me, count on me, even hold my hand, if she ever stops being afraid.

Jawanza Phoenix resides in northern New Jersey where he practices law. His poems have appeared in Tiferet, Exit Magazine, Lips, Paterson Literary Review and African Voices.