Mama always used to set the table at 5:30.
Her dainty brown fingertips would be careful not to grab any glass with too much force or yank any plate out from the dishwasher before it’s time—
Mama Ferguson considered motherhood to be an art.
She let her boy go out and play on her sidewalks because these streets were her realm of domesticity,
but he had to be back by the time the first streetlight came on.
And he always came back,
cried “Mama!” with joy at her doorstep and
ran straight towards the plates of BBQ ribs.
Never was there ever an empty sink,
never was there an empty stomach.
In this house, love asked for seconds
and Mama Ferguson was always willing to serve.
In those days, she used to thrive, used to tie the apron around her slim waist with extreme care,
as if it was a medal of honor.
She was everybody’s Mama. When she went out, the children all used to cling to her calves with playground devotion and her ankles never once buckled underneath the weight.
Mama Ferguson tucked her son into his bed every night around nine, and as he slept,
she looked towards his young face as if she were following the North Star to home.
She would leave prayers from her full lips unto his dark forehead,
then she would close his door.
Mama used to put at least two plates down
and sit at the head of the table until she saw the streetlights come on or heard a knock at her door.
When none came, she continued to wait
until her face was wrought with frown lines she thought she could use a beacon for her son to come home.
She cradled her head in her hands but made the mistake of looking down
at her wrinkles and age spots and varicose veins.
She starts to notice she’s been getting darker lately,
that her beauty has been declining with time,
that Black has been increasingly present in her melanin and in her thoughts
which has never been a good look.
She continues to wait and knows that, wherever he is, he is out far past his bedtime,
so she goes out looking.
Mama Ferguson finds her son sleeping on her corner face down in the cold,
four hours past his bedtime.
She knows he is sleeping because she was the one who closed his eyelids
when no one else bothered to tuck him in.
She cries “Michael!” at her doorstep and
runs straight towards the dishwasher,
empty for the first time.
Ferguson never leaves the house because she feels too guilty.
Her curfews have gone from nine o’clock to midnight,
and she is always running on empty.
If she makes it out her front door, Ferguson doesn’t bother to carry a purse.
She says the zippers and flaps remind her too much of a womb,
says the water splashing in the empty dishwasher reminds her too much of a womb,
says the washing machine reminds her too much of a womb,
and her’s has been barren
ever since they tear gassed her daughters
and murdered her sons.
The neighbors’ daughter stops by her house at lunchtime. Her young, usually bright face seems to shrivel with every syllable that creeps out from behind her lips. She says,
“My boyfriend and I are never having children.”
Says she threw out her list of baby names when she had to throw her hands up in the air.
Says she feels like she’s been robbed,
that White systemic abuse has looted her dreams,
held her future up at gunpoint.
She says, “I wish I hadn’t been born Black. I wish I hadn’t been born,”
And Ferguson just cries up memories that burn so much she has to pour milk over her wrinkled eyes.
She knows that nothing can save her.
Black bodies are a natural born threat so Ferguson knows that peace
is not welcome here,
not when Black babies learn to get down on their knees before they’ve mastered crawling,
not when they learn to sleep face down with their hands up,
not when their faces declare Criminal,
when their thighs demand Rape,
not when open palms demand
She’s been having trouble sleeping, so Ferguson tries something new tonight:
keeps the screen to her bedroom window open.
She imagines Palestinian and Yemeni mothers using the hum of drones
as lullabies for their own dead children;
she rocks herself to sleep with the violent screams of her city and it’s attackers.
Ferguson tries to keep up with her own people’s heavy sidewalk treads,
tries not to think of the fact they sound just like the heavy thumps of Black bodies
when they fall to the ground.
In her dreams, they are marching towards freedom.
In her nightmares,
they are marching towards their graves.