Ya’ll know what I hate?
I hate when people look me in my face
And say, I know what you’re going through
They don’t know what it’s like
To watch your mom take her works in the bathroom
And shoot up the dinner
Shh. Yo, ya’ll hear that?
Yo, that’s my mom’s mind slowly going crazy
As the dope races through her veins
Cracking open beer cans
Hearing shit that ain’t even there
Oh yeah, Pops? He was barely around
Hitting licks to support his habit
It seemed like
23-hour lockdown was his destiny
The pen became his home
No phone calls home just
Short letters of reassurance that he’d be back soon
Ya’ll know what I really hated?
I hated having to hear the lighters flick
Smelling the crack burning, the pipes
Seeing pieces of brillo pad laying on the floor, next to the broken wire hangers
I hated having to watch my sisters grind up on the block
Just to put food in our mouths
I hated having to wear the same panties for week or
None at all
Having to heat water on a stove to take a hot bath
Or wash our dirty clothes in the bathtub
How much would it hurt you to have to watch your mom hand you over to a stranger
So you wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain that night?
It’s like having your childhood ripped from your rib cage
Like swallowing pneumonia and your throat closes up
The funny thing is that those were the best times of our lives
Sleeping in vacant cars and
Still waking up the next day with a smile on our face
You see the material things never mattered to us
We just wanted to live until the next day
And you know what?
The judges can keep their scores
‘Cause the numbers can’t reflect what I’ve been though
Not even this piece can define me
What you don’t know is
Even with the pain of going to sleep some nights on an empty stomach
Mommy always made sure the dining room overflowed with Christmas gifts on Christmas morning
Even with pipe to lips
Beer to hand
Ear to wall
She always found time to be my mother
And teach me anything worth having was worth working for
So you see?
I don’t need pity
I just need you all to help me finish this piece ‘cause
The rest is still unwritten
– Antoinette Osborne
This poem is featured in the exhibition This Place Called Poetry.