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poetry Fish & Duck Skills

The poet Metta Sáma depicts the travails of high school taunts and bullying that ultimately reduce to a single trait: race.

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FISH & DUCK SKILLS

By Metta Sáma

Sometimes it pays to go to Bojangles. To drive

out of the parking lot, see the red awning: Fish &

Duck Skills. A man walks out and it is broad

daylight. Back when I was a new adult in Chattanooga

I’d dare myself to go to the Adult Book Shop on

Market Street in the daytime or to the gasoline

station that my parents frequented, the one close

to our old house, where pornography was stored

in plastic. Back then I only dreamt in violence. &

living was an act of deliberate volatility. Likely,

I could trace it all back to Vaughn who laughed

in my face when I told him I’d been molested

that this was the reason having sex with boys

was an act of self-hatred, how Vaughn shared

not his story of sexual assault, but my story,

with any Tyner Junior High teen willing

to listen. So much was going on back then:

the little race riots between us & Ooltewah,

the White gay guy who thought he was Prince

and was terrified of being found out

that he wasn’t Prince & that he was gay,

the boys who would store their guns in our

lockers, my girl friends and I pretending

we were gay, kissing each other in the hallway,

on the lips, in front of the teachers, because

designer clothes were expensive and scandal

was free. I didn’t bother telling anyone

that I was queer and that just about every

single day I didn’t wish I was White, I just

wished that White people weren’t. But

I fished for the Whitest voice and duck tailed

my hair knowing that one day no one would remember

that I put a gun in my locker, that I kissed

Deidre on her lips, that I sang “the freaks

go out at night” at the top of my lungs & thrust

my hips to “Candy” on my way to the pep rally. No,

what people would remember was that I was

Black. The end.

This poem was originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 17, 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Metta Sáma. Reprinted by permission of the poet and the Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org.

Metta Sáma is author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Swing at your own risk (Kelsey St Press) and author of four chapbooks. She serves on the Advisory Board of Black Radish Books and is a Senior Fellow of Black Earth Institute.