African Diaspora / March 2017 (Issue 35)

The Flame and The Fist (Inez Beverly Prosser)

by Henrik Hoeg

I snatched at flames when I was five
Above my Mama’s stove
Withdrew my scalded fist
Just as involuntarily
As it seems
I had first reached out
Reflexively grasping brightness
She called me a silly wretched girl
In that sympathetic love-anger
That I only ever saw when I hurt myself
Of my own permissible damn foolishness.
My two fingers,
Skin peeled in pink, pained,
Marked of scarring wisdom gained.

The next time I was drawn to fire
It resided in the eyes of young boys
Some burned with temptation
Bridled by youth’s clumsy immaturity
Yet others burned with venom,
The inherited, fearful, self-assured
Hatred of white children from other schools,
My fuel soaked steps around
Their fire a constant danger,
Both sets of flames,
Of love and of hate,
Flared and licked my face more than once,
But I got my licks in too.

I played with fire at the corner paper stand
Feigned I couldn’t read the words
Staring down headlines of a lynching
I asked a young white girl what written,
To see the hesitation in her face
“Nothing,” she said.
“Nothing at all.”

Even from Yoakum, Texas,
I saw enticing lights dancing in the distance,
Cities lit like signal fires,
Centers of learning,
Built on kindling for the curious,
Beckoning me to reach, to grasp,
And of course I did.

Years later,
They always ask of me,
Why psychology?
Why the human mind,
When I had seen so much evil there?
I guess I never was a woman,
To see a flame
And merely stare.

 Henrik Hoeg is the current emcee and organiser of Peel Street Poetry, a weekly open mic night for English-language poetry in Hong Kong. His first book, Irreverent Poems for Pretentious People, was a supplementary awardee in the Proverse Prize 2015 and published in April 2016. In addition to his day job as a special needs teacher, he is currently working on his second collection of poetry and his first novel.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.