My Mother Fights For Every Last Dime of Her Mother’s Refund

Brionne Janae

this has nothing to do with the value of a dollar
or anything anybody might need
the sales associate is simply mistaken
she thinks she can outlast my mother
but doesn’t know how long the ledgers been stacked against us
my mother’s mother the daughter of sharecroppers
her ugly middle name a bartering chip
a soiled hammy down from the white lady
whose land they sucked a living from
as if after all her lonely labor even this
even the child who came wrinkled and slick
with her own blood wasn’t hers in the end
Jardine Mo’s lips curl like the taste
of rotting flesh on the tongue just to say it
don’t you give that name to any of your children she says
flaring her nose a wide line drawn between miss’ssippi and california
as if that was all it took to keep the haints behind us
on the call the associate is trying to convince my mother
she doesn’t know how to read
the charges spread out like a field of black ink
as if my mother had been the one
crammed into a one-room schoolhouse
her books picked apart by the white kids
who owned them before
nigger scribbled on every page
my mother has never bowed her head for anyone
and I know today ain’t the day she starts
I can hear the ice in her voice
each word freezing to a dagger’s point
hear the I wish a mother fucker would
in each crisp enunciated syllable
she’s been twice as good for half as much
and has felt everything the world can take
she has seen her mother feel this too
outside Mo pats the earth
around the birds of paradise in their flower beds
she said she wouldn’t spend her life
in someone else’s dirt and didn’t
above her the birds crane their necks toward the sun
the orange and blue plumes shiny with dew
their beaks green and silent swaying in the breeze
at times it seems they’ll fly


Brionne Janae


the firework launcher on the pavement
almost looks like a gun
holding the sun hostage
the blue eyes of the fire captain
watch you watch him
the social compact gone up in flames
when his buddy comes out too
you nearly trip over the uhaul boxes
of the neighbors who can finally afford
to flee the city
gotta get away gotta get out
of danger out of their line of sight
I mean its crazy to be here
at the end of the world
we don’t have 6ft for outdoor dining
theres just no room
when the virus mutates
it’ll get each and every one of us
but spare the neighbors strawberry blonde dog
then the little yapper will learn to hunt rats
fall prey to something bigger hungrier
or starve all alone in his little apartment
while the squirrels run past the window taunting

Brionne Janae headshot

Brionne Janae is a poet and educator living in Brooklyn. They are a recipient of the 2016 St. Botoloph Emerging Artist award, a Hedgebrook Alum and proud Cave Canem Fellow. Their poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, The Sun Magazine jubilat, Sixth Finch, Plume, The Nashville Review, and Waxwing among others. Brionne’s first full length collection of poetry After Jubilee was published by Boaat Press.