You judge a woman
by the length of her skirt,
by the way she walks,
talks, looks, and acts;
by the color of her skin you judge
and will call her "bitch!"
"Black bitch!"
if she doesn't answer your:
"Hey baby, whatcha gonna say
to a man."

You judge a woman
by the job she holds,
by the number of children she's had,
by the number of digits on her check;
by the many men she may have lain with
and wonder what jive murphy
you'll run on her this time.

You tell a woman
every poetic love line
you can think of,
then like the desperate needle
of a strung out junkie
you plunge into her veins,
travel wild through her blood,
confuse her mind, make her hate
and be cold to the men to come,
destroying the thread of calm
she held.

You judge a woman
by what she can do for you alone
but there's no need
for slaves to have slaves.

You judge a woman
by impressions you think you've made.
Ask and she gives,
take without asking,
beat on her and she'll obey,
throw her name up and down the streets
like some loose whistle --
knowing her neighbors will talk.
Her friends will chew her name.
Her family's blood will run loose
like a broken creek.
And when you're gone,
a woman is left
healing her wounds alone.

But we so called men,
we so called brothers
wonder why it's so hard
to love our women
when we're about loving them
the way america
loves us.




 "Conditions XXI" © 1986,1996, 2002 by Essex Hemphill

This piece originally appeared as "To Some Supposed Brothers," and was republished as part of a larger poem cycle, in Essex Hemphill's book, Conditions (Washington, D.C.: BeBop Books, 1986). Reprinted here by permission of the author, the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, and the Hemphill family.


 Original Graphics © 2002 by Emmanuela Copal de León, based on an original photo, "Erika," by Toni Long. Photo first published in STANDARDS V5N1.





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