You’ve Known Girls like This All Your Life (A Collective Memoir)


Stacia. Danielle. Sonya. Monique, Adria, Shannon, Kim.
Those black middle-class
girls I grew up with here, right here in the South — they did
everything perfectly, didn’t they?
Beautiful and talented,
members of the Honor Society, Presidents of this or that club.

You’d see these girls in church on Sundays and Wednesdays,
their hair whipped into
silky flatness from having bobby-pinned
it to their heads
the night before.
If you were lucky enough
to know the right people, you’d see them again at house parties on Saturdays,
looking cool and impressive
in their ironed jeans
tiny gold hoops — 
a nod to the chunkier jewelry Salt-N-Pepa and later TLC
wore in their music videos.

Boys respected them and somehow knew
they were expected to marry them; to this day, I remember sitting
in Mrs. Rogers’ fifth grade Language Arts class
in the trailer’s mossy humidity,
overhearing Kamau, a confident black boy — 
every school girl’s crush — whisper to Adria’s back
as she bent over her vocabulary worksheet,
“My mother said you’re the girl I should marry.”
Adria’s quick and self-assured nod
didn’t surprise me then, nor did the fact that fifteen years later
Kamau actually did marry her, nor does the fact that today
they are still together — and quite happy.

You could argue the twin pressures of racism and sexism
squeezed these girls into diamonds,
that parts of them shimmered, black and glittering.

But I think, more likely, looking back, that what these
girls were doing was rebellion,
rebellion
Blacksouthernwoman style
in the only way possible
that didn’t involve drugs,
or suicide.

ROCHELLE SPENCER is the author of Afro-Surrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction (Routledge, 2018) and co-editor, with Jina Ortiz, of All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

2017 Still I Rise Grant for Black Women Writers Finalist

This poem originally appeared in Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse.