For My Dead & Loved Ones

Ntozake Shange

(for gail, tracie & viola)

whatever shall i do with my dead
my tombs & mausoleums
these potted plants tended by strangers
over yr eyes closed
maybe dreaming dead/ loved
so particularly i dont know
what to do with you

shall i see you dancin/
hold yr child askin/ what’s mammy like
should i sleep with yr husband
who sees yr childself in my memories
yr mother will she bosom talk me to death with you
pretend she has been no mother
our smokey robinson fantasies set aside
recollections comin to no good end

grandma/ grandma
must i ride with yr daughters to sit
in the cemetery on sunny days/ weedin
yr womb/ wdnt it be better if i stayed
in my kitchen/ makin gumbo/ codfish cakes
watchin edge of nite/
rubbin me hands of my apron/ hummin
his eye is on the sparrow
yr photograph at 25 is on my wall
awready you had given yr woman over/
no one wd know you/ only mama is remembered
when waz there more
i shall not lie fondling a dead man’s love
bakin apples for a locket jammed with hair from
a head no longer arrogant
but what shall i do
with my dead/ loved so particularly
leavin me/ specifically

some never stop breathin
wantin kisses
some disappear/ slammin the door
bangin the phone
one went off in a VW bus/ another
stole my sleep

i sit here drinking memories
entertainin ghosts/ longin for arms
no longer warm/ too enchanted
to tend the pulse pushin me on
to go off from you/ my dead & loved ones

when i meet a someone/ i must know
i place you round me like a court of holy seers
if this stranger is to have a space in my life
she must pull yr spirits to her own
for i wander regularly in moments of the dead
if you wd have me speak
you must learn the tongue of my dead & loved ones
i have been left behind
a survivor
holdin out for more

Last updated August 26, 2022