Friday, June 26, 2009

Camden, New Jersey: Poetry Friday

"Camden, New Jersey"
Kate Rushin

Two backyards down
Our neighbor is yelling:
Get done, Johnny! Get done!

Johnny is her son.

Then she yells: Got eight, Wanita?
Had seven tomatoes,
Now I got eight!

Wanita is her girlfriend

Then it hits me

Our neighbor is a lesbian, a mother,
And just as colored as
Everybody else.

I wonder if I'll be like her

Poking around the garden with boy's sneaks
Yelling about tomatoes

Hey, Wanita!
Had seven,
Now I got eight!

June is Gay Pride Month. This poem isn't about being a lesbian; it's about the intersection of identity: mothers, lovers, family, lovers, neighbors. It's about how we, black women see ourselves. Interestingly, I recently read an interview where writer, Jacqueline Woodson wrote she is a writer who is queer, a writer who is black, a writer who is a woman. She said she doesn't want different groups using her when it's convenient for them. She is all these things all the time.

I found myself smiling at how the narrator relates to her neighbor. She acknowledges the women are a couple and unlike many people in our society, she doesn't object to their relationship but recognizes how we are the same. I loved the identification: the speaker contemplates her own identity, a woman picking tomatoes. I'm not sure if the narrator is identifying as a lesbian. I hope I'm not missing an affirming moment. What I see is a woman who is okay with the idea of being like her neighbors. In whatever way she relates is all good in my mind.

At CORA Diversity Roll Call we are celebrating LGBTQ literature and writers. Check us out. This week Poetry Friday is hosted by Kelly at Crossover.

poem from The Black Back-Ups by Kate Rushin, Firebrand Books. 1993.


Ali said...

Love this. And what she says about not wanting the different groups to claim her when its convenient to them speaks to a nagging discomfort I had when writing the original C.O.R.A. post.

Doret said...

Reading this poem I am reminded of that scene in Women in Brewster Place, when the lesbian couple was making dinner. The neighbor wouldn't stop peaking into their apartment. One of the woman was so mad, she started throwing the food at her. "We're making meatloaf" They're weren't doing anything out of the ordinary but still the neighbor watched.

Color Online said...

Doret, you mean because both involved a neighbor and the food? Because the attitudes are completely different. I remember Women of Brewster Place and the woman making the meatloaf was angry and frustrated about her neighbor's hatred. In this poem, the narrator not only accepts the couple but wonders if she would be a woman in the garden concerned with her tomatoes. In the poem, there is harmony and acceptance.

Doret said...

In the women's anger and frustration, I hope she got across to the veiwers that she and her partner are no different then any other couple . There was no acceptance with the neighbor but maybe people watching this will rethink what they think gay or lesbian couples do behind close door, or maybe they won't think about it at all.

Color Online said...

Are you referring to the book or Rushin's poem? I don't read any anger or frustration in the poem. I don't know how many readers reading this know about Women of Brewster Place.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I read this poem wrong the first time and thought it said "Get DOWN Johnny, GET DOWN!" LOL because my sons are always climbing somewhere that looks dangerous to this mama. Then I started thinking about how much I love growing tomatoes. The poet has chosen two really intimate, everyday, concrete images to present that make us all feel ourselves in this poem - the lesbian part becomes as personal and as commonly human as the rest...

It's a masterful contrast that leaves a lot of room for thought and discussion.

Author Amok said...

Thanks for posting. This poem spoke to the Jersey girl in me. Been living outside the Garden State for 10 year & I miss all of this: loud neighbors, importance of backyard tomatoes, all kinds of folks sharing space.

Anonymous said...

This is lovely.

The Wire has just started to be shown here in the UK and I am enjoying the portrayal of the lesbian couple as an accepted part of the community. This poem is another example of that. Maybe things are changing.