The Token Black Mother in the Chuck E. Cheese Commercial

“Prime Time” and “Her,” two poems by Destiny O. Birdsong

The Token Black Mother in the Chuck E. Cheese Commercial

“Prime Time”

In one commercial, the token black mother
sitting with a table of friends at Chuck E. Cheese’s
doesn’t care if the mushrooms in the alfredo
are fresh, and she doesn’t need Chef Tony’s recipe.
She just wants to know if he’s married — for a friend.

In another, the lone black girl at the party
has forgotten the relationship between nut allergies
and peanut butter — she just knows her brownies are on hit.
With her stringy weave and badly mimed surprise,
maybe she thought her homegirl’s skin too porcelain,
so she fed her something that would stipple it with welts.

[Revenge is always and never a black woman yelling,
flailing and helpless in a room of shuffling feet.]

At a conference, I sip vodka straight and slip
into a green jumpsuit that looks — almost —
like January Jones’s at the Emmys.
Donika says: jewel tones are good for blondes.
In the lobby, a white man from my cohort holds me
aloft by my elbows, exclaiming: but you look great!
as if he’d opened a menu and found
a gluten-free version of desire: me,
wrong-colored and splayed like blood-speckled currency.
My breasts: two overripe apples in a food desert.
My pussy: convenient as an Epi-Pen — if you keep one around.

Bummer — for my friend, says the mother
when the waitress confirms Chef Tony is, in fact, married.
The choking girl says nothing; neither do I,
but I steady my gaze to meet the man’s
benevolent shock, each almost-word
a pollen-flecked stinger hiving my throat:
Trust me, motherfucker. I always know how it looks.


I love the way I did as a little girl:
best in empty rooms. Babble filling my mouth
and dribbling, my tongue roseate
with the breath of my own name. A caboodle
on the bed — each chamber beating
with tiny glass bottles. Beside it, two
grinning dolls talk of their husbands,
both magicians. One sprouts daisies
from his hands on Fridays, makes Kool-Aid
and cupcakes for dinner, stirring
into them the sweet of the air
with arms pre-crooked for his wife’s embrace.
This one is a doctor, a lawyer, a model,
lies rigid on top, never makes demands
and cannot remove her clothes. They shiver loose
after one knock of his polyvinyl lips
and a pair of gigantic hands. I dreamed then:
perfectly-sized to fit any room I could
get my fingers into. Everything
in the future looked like Malibu:
palm-treed and sunned — even I was tan,
with spindly legs and conical breasts,
prancing my permanently arched feet
across a bedspread. I see that girl-self
now, holding every object close
enough for her bifocals to transform it
into a life beyond the bounds of Pines Road.
If I could step into that room to show her
what I’ve become, prove that nothing
would end her, not drive-bys nor
the horned puppet who hisses
at scripture in Sunday School, I’d wait
outside the door, letting her peel
her hot pink dreams open like
Now-and-Laters. I’m not sure she’d need
anything more than an adult’s
undistracted gaze, a tending ear.
And what I want most to tell her — that she was right
in her utter belief she could build a world
and live in it alone; or that she will one day greet
the sag of her imperfect breasts with a murmur
of indulgence, the way she dissolves
a boll of cotton candy into syrup laced
with her DNA, or sips the remains
of rainbow-speckled milk from pilfered
cups of cereal — I cannot say.
It is a singular, decadent life, a truth I know
would kill her, or make her
murderous in its knowing.

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