We knew to tiptoe quietly
if mama was on the land line
using her full lips to parse out
each syllable, carefully measuring
her words as if they were being
eye-balled and weighed
on the other end.
She saved that tongue
for bill collectors and the principal,
but if she used it to sound out my
whole name, everyone knew
trouble was coming.
The tongue she used for close friends
had sugar on it,
was filled with laughter
and warmth and music.
When they fell into small circles,
made words hold their breath,
change their color and meaning
and forced the rules of English
to take off its good wig,
it was not just speech class,
it was my first real poetry.
Added: Tuesday, December 4, 2018 / From "Ink Stains & Watermarks: New and Uncollected Poems," (Duncan Hill Press, 2017). Used with permission.
The first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate, Frank X Walker is Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he founded pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture. He has published ten collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award, and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, which he adapted for stage. Voted one of the most creative professors in the south, Walker, a Danville native, coined the term “Affrilachia” and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets. A Cave Canem Fellow, his honors also include a 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry.