The Boys on the Block, and Me

The Boys on the Block and Me“On Falling in Love with My First Love Again” and “Instinct of Extinct — on Leaving Black Men,” two works by slam poet Barbara Fant

The Boys on the Block, and Me

“On Falling in Love with My First Love Again, The Boys on the Block Don’t Cry, When the Earth Can No Longer Protect You” by Barbara Fant

The boys on the block don’t cry
The boys on the block only cry in silence
The boys on the block don’t cry for their absent fathers
Their absent fathers don’t have faces
They wear their absent father’s faces
The boys on the block don’t cry

I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, bottom of Tod Lane, Northside,
The trees bend themselves into the wind, hide from all the bullets
My momma used to tell me,
Bend down when the earth can no longer protect you
The earth will never protect you
Only God can protect the bones that He has created

I knew a boy once, fell in love on the last day of school, seventh grade,
He touched my booty in sixth grade
In eighth grade, he was my boyfriend
We held hands in the moonlight,
Broke up and got back together,
Whether he fell into me, or I landed into the crash of his thunder,
Nothing could put asunder this friendship
Freshman year, he needed to grow, different path,
But it didn’t last, and sophomore year, he fell hard,
and it all started and sparked all over again,
Every dance, every date, every wait, after football game, outside locker room, ready for him to take me back to his car, and then to his room,
maybe get some food, and then home,
And I found home in him,
Then momma had to go home,
And he was the first I called to tell when I got home,
Next day, he came over and became my cover,
And he covered me, through winter’s cold breath,
Every season that erupted into my life that my skin
was yet prepared for, he was there,
How he bent down when the earth could no longer protect me

The first time he said he loved me was the summer going into eighth grade,
I always wanted those stars on my ceiling that glowed in the dark,
My mom couldn’t find them,
So she found a lamp and surprised me with it,
It had stars cut out all over it and it rotated,
When you light it up, it lights up the whole ceiling,
Miraculously, starlight all across my bedroom
Instantly, my room is a solar system,
A collection of constellations,
And that day, he called, and said,
“Would you believe me if I told you I loved you?”
And I said, “Yes,” and he said he loved me that day,
and seventeen years later, my feelings are the same,
My feelings are the same on the block,
Where the boys don’t cry, I fell in love with a guy
Who understood the war outside,
so he made sure he was always the home I needed

“Bend down Barbara, I’ll be the earth that protects you”

And I want you to just be the boy
Let your past fall out of your eyes like the ocean’s gasp
And I’ll spit back to you, fistfuls of your innocence,
I want you to be that innocent again,
Before your grandmother’s hands lined the walls of a prison
Before your mother found the pill bottle,
Before my mother found the grave
I wish us sixth grade innocence
And a seventh grade summer love
I wish us summer
And bronze skin melting into a browner shade under the sun
Before the gun stole El from our lives
Before Shanice had to be found, with her boyfriend,
both of them, shot point blank range,
Did you hear, how they left the baby on the bed,
just swimming in all that blood?
I could not bring myself to go to her funeral,
Didn’t want to remember her like that
All plastic-faced and porcelain,
She will never be that innocent again,
I remember how me, Trina, Shanice, and Kia had a special kind of bond,
None of our mothers saw us graduate,
All their mothers murdered,
My grandmother, murdered,
How black girls in the hood bond in the bloodiest of ways,
How you and I bonded in the bloodiest of days

Branded our bad days into each other’s yesterdays,
And decided to hold onto each other,
No matter how aflame, or bloody, or frozen,
The block may be
How I never see the boys in the block cry,
How the boys on the block swallow the swelling oceans
back into their eyes, sweep the pain from beneath their lids
and call it the earth

Instinct of Extinct — on Leaving Black Men

Used to be so mad at your dad,
How he raised you to keep your head high, above women,
Put them in their place
Cream of Crop, boy
And then I think of your dad,
In ’58, wading through green blades, away from white fists,
And then again in ’68, swimming through Black Panther fists,
Wrists the cops want to lynch, handcuffs and silver gates,
Ask them, which way is Heaven? Is there a Heaven here?
I think of fear he must have kept swollen in his belly
As he raised black boy and spent every night on his knees,
Praying you made it home
And then you made it home,
Grew yourself a wife and career
Brought home the knife and fight,
Never learned not to bring the tornado into the house
When he brought the shotgun home, I buried my mouth
My throat, a choking target of surrender, or hiding
Why we never talk about these black women that
carry the weight of black men,
All this trauma growing in his bones,
Your hands, my throat, another birthing of racism,
bearing its teeth in our home,
Tyree loses his life, Marshawn, Eric, Mike,
all these brown men disappearing around me,
And I leave a black man at a time when black men are becoming extinct,
Why we cling to black men we want to run from
and cradle all at the same time
Was so angry at your mother,
How she birthed a myriad of sons and became shadow,
Danced the sway of a million brown women
wading their way through security and survival,
Your father could never understand all the chaos in me,
I tried to be the good Christian girl,
but her body would not fit into my skin,
Learned to swallow my own fins in obedience
Prayed to every altar I could bend myself into
How I shuffled through fields and river,
just to hold you with these charred limbs of a lover,
How I should’ve had no other gods beside you
Submitted to the sounds of your breath,
pulled pages of Scripture from my throat
And I was always the dumb, non-submissive
Perhaps I should’ve just rolled over, let you crawl on top,
Birthed you a tribe of hunters who grew to slice the voices of other women
Was I only good enough for this?
Like how your father felt he was only good enough for fields?
The ghosts of white men chasing him in the night?
I tried to understand the outstretched limbs of racism,
how she claws at backbone of children she births,
Remembers her covenant with America
And claws through every covenant that tries to escape her breath,
When she came to birth the sirens,
I tried to hold you, like a good wife,
But I pushed, released, waded my way through every blade
Of field and river gushing within me,
And let you go, like a woman

Watch Barbara Fant perform:

TEDx Columbus (2011)

Women of the World Poetry Slam (Final Stage — 2017)

About the Author

Barbara Fant has been writing and performing for 12 years. She has represented Columbus, OH in 9 National Poetry Slam competitions and placed 8th out of 96 poets in the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is featured in the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Columbus Makes Art Campaign and Columbus Alive named her in their 2017 People to Watch. A 2009 recipient of the Cora Craig Author Award for Young Women through Penmanship Books in NYC, she is the author of three poetry collections, a TEDx speaker, and has been commissioned by over ten organizations. She holds a BA in Literature, a Masters in Theology, and is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at Antioch University Los Angeles, where she served as co-lead poetry editor on the literary journal Lunch Ticket. She works at The Columbus Foundation and teaches poetry at Transit Arts. Barbara believes in the transformative power of art and considers poetry her ministry.

“On Falling in Love with My First Love Again/The Boys on the Block Don’t Cry/When the Earth Can No Longer Protect You” and “Instinct of Extinct — on Leaving Black men” are published here by permission of the author, Barbara Fant. Copyright © Barbara Fant 2018. All rights reserved.

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