The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2019

All Issues
MAR 2019 Issue



Never Again

At the end of every holocaust film I've seen and there
are not that many
they show real life survivors and the lines are
Never Again
and some of us like me/stare into these films
down long tunnels of history
wondering how it could have ever happened at all
that a leader and his minions could be so toxic, poisonous
you'd turn against your neighbors
and you could be so oblivious, brainwashed, scared
desperate to be superior or to survive
you'd do anything-or almost.
They say never again
but it is again
as I look at the deportations
round ups
I'm reminded of Idi Amin when he cast out foreigners
and Forest Whitaker in the film The Last King of Scotland/when he played him.
And to see it is again
at rallies, at protests, they show the coat hangers and crude instruments
women were forced to use in back alley abortions
We say never again but taking away women's choice
and Planned Parenthood it is again.
Today started out in an argument with a so called fan
who didn't understand why I mentioned race so much in my new book
and that white man is not the first/a black woman
asked too.
I wanted to scream HELLO haven't you seen the news?
Didn't you see what happened to Stephon Clark?
unarmed and shot in the back six times by police
And no one even cares what happens to women/
Black lesbians or lesbians of color
There's no public outcry.
A student once wrote to me in an academic paper
that a parent forced her to stop playing sports
because they said sports made her more of a dyke
It murdered my student inside because she was an athlete
Yeah so the white guy I argued with about my book
said he was just giving me some good advice
from his experience as an empath
I said I don't need your advice
I have reasons for talking about race and gender in the interpersonal
He said he was just trying to help me.
I'll offer this non-sequitur
Winnie Mandela died a few weeks ago
She had great impact on me
I read she was nobility
But then of course the difference between her and say
how Princess Diana was treated
Everyone accepted and loved Diana's silent/passive status
She was allowed to be gorgeous
No one ever associated her with that dirty colonial stain
There are moments in that recent Winnie Mandela doc that stand out to me
where she buried her face in her hands and screamed out
as I have so many times, “I've been betrayed”/the other moment
was when she said she was the only ANC member
brought to TRC and made to testify
Also that Nelson Mandela forgave a nation
but he could never forgive her.
I think what was done to Winnie
is also done to other Black women and working artists
Black women fighting to give language/resistance
but it only matters when a celebrity says or does it.
At Cape Coast Castle in Ghana after you've passed
the door of no return
there is a plaque donated to the Castle by Black tribal elders/it reads:
May we never sell ourselves into slavery again...
But it is Again.





Size color class I was never allowed to be little
And by little I mean innocent
By little I mean allowed to play
make mistakes
If anything occurred in whatever setting
I was always blamed
I was mistaken constantly for being older than I was
At 6 when my stepmother came she refused to
allow me alone time with my father
If a moment occurred she asked
What were you doing with him?
As if I at 6 were molesting my father
I was caught once through an open bathrobe
trying to see my father’s penis
My stepmother never forgot
You were trying to look at him, she said.
I was not given toys books anything
Stuffed animals
Bows ribbons anything that may be attached to a little girl
I was also my mother’s sounding board for her adult problems
with my Dad
Constantly instructed to call the police
when he hit her
The only thing my parents could figure out to do together
for some small infraction was to give me punishment
2 weeks
So I never knew the nurturance
that girls got
My adult life has duplicated this
always to blame
always outside
refusing to see my little girl
On occasion my mother sent me to the store to get candy
Things that she liked
Fire balls
Reese's peanut butter cups
Kit Kat bars
Black licorice
Sometimes red which I liked
I remember once chewing a pack of red Twizzlers as an adult
the red stem hung out of my mouth
A friend at the time exclaimed
You're such a little girl …
And once when I was with a woman
Someone looked on and said oh
Your little girl is out
In relationships too I was never
the little girl
In fact in most of them I rescued radically immature women
I was their mother caretaker
the one with all responsibility
And of course when it ended I was always to blame
Everything to me lies around class race gender lines
Even in so called evolved communities
Even with people of color
I always know no one would treat a white skinned woman or a man the way I've been treated
In colleges where I teach
I'm always aware of the hierarchy
People screaming about diversity
I moan complain
How the Aids narrative only belongs to men
They never ask women
Black women
As if Aids didn't happen to us
Our fathers brothers sons nephews
Cousins acquaintances
The black gay boys in the choir
became our disappeared
I remember a pair of black gay men
who were spiritual
would act as ministers
and bury the dead black boys
families wouldn't recognize
These men showed up as the priests
and gave last rites
And what of the women
A mother nursing a grown son
returned to a baby
ravaged by Aids
Me being young myself going into sick wards
like leper colonies
seeing those abandoned by society
I never forgot
Even my era did not allow me to be little
A threat if I spoke up
A competitor for middle class white girls
who had the world handed to them
And resented me/you for surviving
thriving despite all odds.





Say what you want about my mother/ I know
her cruelty knew no bounds
never a warm hug
kind word
every year when school came/fall
I looked at the flyers of back to school clothes
I wore rags/hand me downs
As soon as I worked she made me pay rent
and that was the message engraved into me
instead of being taught responsibility
I was taught I owed
her rent
the ground I stood on and had no rights
My father’s neglect
The patches put over his eyes
not to see
never a book
She suffered from mental illness
was selfish
Through blinds
Through stories I get glimpses
Say what you want but she is the greatest fighter
She is going now
She cobbles out a life from the women she watches on housewives shows
Their competition
My neighbor buys a wreath
My mother buys a bigger one
She tells my father when I visit
Strike up the barbeque
She buys corn
pretends it’s a party
I see she has lost weight this visit
the depression she believes there is a man coming to destroy things
and there are bugs
She constantly buys poison
I know I can’t talk to her about depression/the drugs
So I say as gently as I can
Keep your spirits up/ then you will gain back the weight
On the morning I am leaving
She dresses up in nice clothes
And a pair of coral earrings I gave her
She said she’d been skipping meals
But on the morning before I left
perhaps just as a child to show me
She piled her plate full of scrambled eggs with ketchup
And she ate.





I’m not sure why but it’s taken forever for me to write this poem
I hope to remember all the pieces
But I’ve developed a new condition
One that’s come from age/I can no longer take the shit I once did
And there’s a part of my condition that comes from gentrification
And cell phone use
Living amidst tech zombies
And their general fear and hatred of People of color
My condition is called sidewalk rage
Kind of like road rage
But comes when walking down the street and there’s some millennial
Who has just moved into the neighborhood
who thinks its theirs
a little grown ass white girl who in broad daylight feels a dark presence
walking behind her
it’s me/minding my own business and she gets so panicked and paralyzed
she stops walking and holds her purse
with my new condition I yell
If you don’t want to live around Black people, get the fuck out of the neighborhood!
She is shocked.
Or in another scenario:
You see random white women on their phones
Standing in a doorway completely blocking it
Because you know only they exist
And you’re like HELLO, HELLO
Yes, all these years I thought I was still a small town girl and then suddenly
with my sidewalk rage, I’m a bonafide New Yorker
like the ones you’ve seen on bicycles banging on the hood of a taxi cab
that tries to cut them off
My person with sidewalk rage is a character of their own
Where once I was silent
Recently I confronted a man who was blocking my path/crossing the street
He had his head down and almost rammed into me
I sucked my teeth loud and shouted HELLO HELLO
He was so angry I’d confronted him he yelled, “Suck my dick”
I started to yell something profane but I stopped myself
And then I was in the subway/going downstairs and a white man rammed into me
on the phone,
My sidewalk rage kicked in and thought for a second to sneak behind him
And kick him down the stairs,
That’s my sidewalk rage/ I stopped myself.
I don’t know who this person is in me who would never speak up for herself
Was always soft and vulnerable
Who’s been at various times pickpocketed, blasphemed/body slammed,
ransacked, ridiculed
Who now has a voice
Who now lets rage show
Who couldn’t express herself
Has now become all angles and sharp edges.



Pamela Sneed

Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer and visual artist. She is author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom than Slavery, KONG and Other Works, Sweet Dreams and a chaplet, Gift by Belladonna. She has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Time Out and Bomb. She appears in Nikki Giovanni's, “The One Hundred Best African American Poems.” A new chaplet, Black Panther, was recently published by Belladonna.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2019

All Issues