My little sister is beautiful.
She has our father’s eyes, brown.
Her mother’s skin—light, blinding.
Something in her skin draws me
and I look like a confused scribble,
a Black mask, in comparison.
I’ve never felt like this before.
She is so blinding I can’t even see her
as my little sister, just competition.
She looks like the women my dad left mom for;
I remember her crying at how beautiful they were.
Will my daddy leave me for a new daughter?
I could leave my body for hers.
She looks like the girls the world prefers.
She looks like the revised version of me.
I used to follow the edits, rubbing my flesh with
lemons, or my mother’s chemical peels.
I must understand my role is to be Big Sister.
I can never tell her this, keep this darkness at bay.
Even when this darkness is in my eyes, my skin,
when it’s all around me, we never know what it is,
but our bodies do.
My skin always burning at the sight of her light,
I could be her shadow. Always watching her back,
but always behind.
I must protect her from myself.
Even when her mom teaches her to hate me,
and the world teaches her to hate me,
I love her with my eyes open, even when it hurts.
Even when she’s all blinding,
even when she’s all beautiful.
It feels like every Black house runs
a thrift shop, with the ways we trade trauma
like old clothing. In our house, we are bursting
at the seams cuz all the bags we carry.
I still have the pajamas I was molested in.
And no matter how many times they are washed,
they will never be clean enough to give up
like I did.
I told my cousin I didn’t wanna go in the closet.
Not only did I see his skeletons, I became one.
Every caress on my breasts felt like a hanger
being pushed through my chest.
I told my mom that this shirt was too big for me to handle,
that these hand-me-downs got too much space
for curious kissing cousins to hand-you-up bad memories.
All she did was take my shirt to be washed,
to be baptized, to be pressed and prayed.
She gave me another one to cover up in
but even she knows trauma is one size fits all.
See my mom knows abuse like the back of her dress.
I wish she would’ve told me what that looked like
before my cousins put the same dress on me.
We still know how to laugh.
They make fun of my height,
of how I will never grow out of old clothes
owned by my mother and her mother.
And my father forgets every time I tell him.
He can’t believe he didn’t save me
but leaves me in a pile of healing
that I have to make my responsibility.
How do you fold a memory?
Tell me: if every Black house runs a thrift shop, why aren’t we
Giving anything away, to be burned like a plague?
I want to make love and therapy a flame thrower,
Watch these pajamas twist and curl over the embers
like sleepless nights I’ve had.
These clothes will never find their way on my child.
I will never prepare them to be a sheep in my clothing.
God, make me a salvation army the second hands lay on them.
I pray they never live in a thrift shop.
Mecca Verdell is an author, actress, teaching artist and poet. She first gained national attention after winning Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry slam. Since then Mecca has been traveling the country performing, teaching and building upon the intersection of activism and art. She is a voice for Black women everywhere. Verdell won Day Eight’s annual DC Poet Project competition in 2020 and her book, Things to Unlearn, is forthcoming. Malik Crumpler wrote, “Mecca Verdell’s Things to Unlearn is a memorable unbinding of insights enriched with allegorical documentation of contemporary American’s wear on the soul. Beautifully tragic confessions of living with trauma flow effortlessly into humorous coded moments with family and friends.”
Image by ParentingPatch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22192169