"Roses Won't Grow in Concrete Gardens"
 
     
 

 by Frances Brown
 

 

     
 

 

Muscadines don't bear that year
crotons don't even bloom
but we eat green pecans one whole day long
and get the flux anyway.
We learn a new way to Aunt Livvy's house
a short-cut through Macedonia churchyard
past the graveyard where the tenderstone man
sleeps against a headstone.
We thread ourselves through goober vines
to avoid the shuddering pines
where Aunt Heggy's ghost hangs out.

We learn to spell big words
like "perpendicular" and "encyclopedia"
and what "picayune" means.
We learn that why things grow so wild
and fast in The Bottom has something to do
with the rich black soil--and freedom.
And wonder what it feels like
to shout in church, be in the family way
or to have a ding-a-ling;
to ring a chicken's neck or milk a cow.
And ask certain questions for the first time:
If we sit under a juniper tree
when we get sick and tired
will God send an angel with healing water?
And can JoCleeta please go to heaven too
when she dies, since she's only a little
white girl. Is it true that Santa Claus is
a white man, and wouldn't be caught
dead sliding down the chimneys
of little colored girls?

We discover that mannish boys
carry rabbit-tobacco
in Prince Albert cans tucked
into their hip pockets
and smoke it
behind the outhouse;
that besides making good brooms
juniper branches are pretty to look at;
that Sister Hobbs is piano soloist,
missionary by day and
obyah-woman by night;

that God don't like ugly
and pretty ain't to the bone;
you crop collard greens
but pull turnips all the way up
out of the ground;
that fat meat's greasy
fire is hot
big girls don't cry
and the preacher's hands
feel like sweaty putty.

We learn that we are too small
too nappy-headed and too black
and our footprints
in the deep deep snow Up North
still zig-zag around
the yes indeed white folks;

that years roll by in perfect synch
with growing knowledge, wisdom,
and silver strands;
that paved streets and neon lights
can make a city bright
but roses won't grow in these concrete gardens
and more things than stepping on a crack
can break your mother's back.

 
     
     

 

 

 "Roses Don't Grow in Concrete Gardens" © 1996 by Frances Brown
 
     
 

 Original Graphics © 1996 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal
 
     

 

   
 

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