Playground Politics

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Age 11

12 was to be a big year.  Soon there would be no more recess; real bras; and the boys would grow up into the kind from our teen novels who danced with the girls and wrote loving notes folded four square; the teachers would be harder on third floor where the 7th and 8th grade were housed.

My two best friends and I were all turning 12 within 2 days of one another.  We had been discussing the gifts and parties–well, one was having a big party with bigger gifts; I was going to have a “family” party with my favorite meal and cake of my choice.  I wouldn’t be at hers.

I didn’t think about that much though.  I’m not sure why it seemed reasonable that she delivered invitations to people who barely spoke to her.   I couldn’t imagine myself in the environment though we had been friends for years; had collected each other’s school pictures; and promised to name our last child after one another–if we ran out of baby names.

On the playground, while she was on recess restriction, our other friend asked me if I knew why I wasn’t invited.  Since I hadn’t really given it much thought, I told her. “No.”

“Because her dad doesn’t want her to have a Black best friend.”

We both wagged our heads with pity, feeling sorry for–wait for it: her father.

I didn’t realize how much of an effect the event had on me until I began drafting this almost 20 years later:

shared the same birthday,
gave Sundays to the same god, discussed
band sectionals and crushes
on the playground swings.
one of the three was better
on the monkey bars.

She could not go to the party.

this strategy
was the father’s:

it worked.

new ways came with high school:
one in maine;
daddy’s girl permed big and red
and she wears makeup.

conversations of
whatever the remaining two knew
or didn’t drowned by mallets
on marimbas and xylophones.

mount vernon hails seven year old prodigy;
white students remain seated.
she leads a pledge to blackness
in english; she is fluent in swahili
and three other languages–
is one of them ebonics
the rant wonders.

has she ever
sat on a curb
lipsticked with snow cone syrup;
double dutched into a pink orange dusk
fast talking, hand on imagination, neck rolling;
guessed blue’s clues?

fifteen years later she will offer
hey, generic and more interested in hor’deuvres;
mallets tucked away like an ex-lover’s insincerity
you wish you didn’t know was only that
no drum rolls either.

the Autobahn–
happens fast, goes both ways.
if you’re not paying attention
you die or kill someone else
in the process.


One thought on “Playground Politics

  1. Hmmm not surprised all of this had an effect..had to..after all…’that’s life’ and it’s surely not always sweet nice, but it’s all telling…you had to know what the REAL world was like and you’re certainly none the worse for knowing…As your grandmommy often said that HER grandfather would say, “it’s worth a plug nickel to find a person out’ (and the truth was, a ‘plug nickle’ wasn’t worth ANYTHING…neither was the fake friendships that were outgrown too soon… Pull those mallets out once in awhile…bang them for victory…you’re all grown up now and know whatz up…for real though!


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