The Steps and The Lady

Dear Mr. Wonder,

Today mommy listened to a song I never heard before. She didn’t make me get up so I just stayed in my bed and listened too. I think she was crying. You were saying something about leaving in summer. It seemed like the song was kind of sad but your voice was so strong. Mommy said if I keep practicing I can sing like you one day. I wanna do those squiggly things you do with your voice and make people smile. Or cry. I think mommy needed to cry. She ran the water at the kitchen sink for a long time and then I heard the record start skipping. She ran to the front room and lifted the needle. I heard her open the record cabinet. That’s when I knew I was gon have to get up. I had to make sure she picked something I could use to do the back steps.

I hate cleaning those steps. The grease from the kitchen gets all down in the sides and it’s hard to make them shine like the ones at Aunt Doy’s house. Plus they make a lot of noise while I’m trying to hear the music. I ask mommy to turn it up but she just says the speakers gon blow out with all the bump music I ask to listen to. At Aunt Arleen’s house, the speakers go up high and she always plays “Another One Bites The Dust” for me while me and my cousins clean. We like that song but we like it when she plays Happy Birthday more. Aunt Arleen don’t care if it’s our birthdays or not, she play that song any way and we be jammin. Oh, we like Jammin too. Aunt Arleen tells us to practice our walks for the fashion show. We can’t wait. She said they don’t usually let kids walk in the show but Miss Pearlie liked us so much she said we had to be in it. I’m wearing a red, white and blue bathing suit and Esha, that’s my girl cousin but she more like a sister to me, she wearing pink and gold. Esha so pretty and she is the best dancer out of all my cousins. I don’t know what Ra is wearing yet, that’s Esha’s brother, but Uncle Nate said it don’t really matter cause people just wanna hear Ra say his numbers in the talent part. Uncle Nate made up a song about Ra. He call him big head cause he so smart. Uncle say “head so big, head so strong, head like that can’t never go wrong.” Uncle Nate and little Uncle Nate say I’m smart too. Big Uncle Nate call me ABC. He sing a song for me that go “ABC, can’t you see, ABCD can’t you see.” I like it. I like being smart but I really wanna be able to jump double dutch and do my cheers like Esha. She just jump in the rope and all the girls want her on their drill teams.

I was going to the store over there by Aunt Arleen’s house the other day and a girl started calling me over by Belmont-Runyon. She was over on the school playground with her friends. She asked me to come over and talk to her. I put my money in my sock and went to see what she wanted. She asked me “ain’t you Esha’s cousin” I said yeah. She asked me could I go get Esha so she could teach them this one step. I knew the one she was talking about but I wanted to let Esha teach it to them because I couldn’t do the part about in and out my cherry tree. Every time we got to that part, my butt felt like it just couldn’t get the rhythm. I told her I would see and asked her name. One of the other girls sucked her teeth and said you don’t gotta know her name, just go get Esha. I felt that nasty feeling in my stomach that I always got when Mr. Charles, that’s my mommy’s man, wanted me to eat his eggs with the funky cheese in them. One of the other girls must have known cause she said “Tina why you always gotta get smart shut up.” And the girl who called me over said “yeah it’s ok, my name Rabiyyah, she know me.” Anyway, back to this morning.

I put on my house clothes and went out to the front room to see mommy. She was looking at your album and then she put it away and asked me if I wanted to listen to Janet Jackson. I asked if we could listen to Antoinette instead. Mommy said we needed to go to the record store and see if there wasn’t some better rap music to clean to. We decided to listen to Janet and “Control” was a good record for starting those back steps. They didn’t sparkle so much but it was easier to scrub them down when that record was playing. By the time “Nasty” came on, I was halfway down the steps and I was ready to dump out the dirty water from the bucket. I could see it getting all grey. I went around to the front and came up those steps. The gold carpet smelled like the beauty parlor when they first got started in the morning. Mommy had sprayed them down already. I tiptoed so I wouldn’t mess it up too much. By the time I got back to the other steps to finish cleaning, mommy had skipped “You Can Be Mine” like I knew she would. One time she said “no that sound too much like that girl up there talkin bout she a virgin” I knew she meant Madonna but I just nodded my head while she found the line on the record that would put her on the song she really wanted to hear. “Let’s Wait Awhile” came on and I could hear her snapping her fingers. I knew she would stand right by the record player and listen to that one. I smiled because I knew that song made her happy. I didn’t know why it made her happy but I knew that feeling happy is something my mom don’t get as much as the other moms do.

Cynthia Jackson’s mother is always smiling and laughing. She is a short lady who sometimes don’t even take her rollers out before she leave the house. She don’t seem to mind them. Ms. Jackson will get in her big old car and light her cigarette with them rollers sitting right there in her head. She would smile and say “I’ll be right back Cynt, I’m finna go get this money.” If I was on my porch across the street she would wave to me and say “how you doin sweetie”? She sound like my relatives down South but she got diamonds in her nail polish and purple shimmer lipstick and that reminds me of the ladies over at the Lincoln Motel by the big library.

I hear that those ladies are from New York and they could get you into Sensations to see Biz-Markie but I don’t know the dances yet so I can’t ask them until I get a little better. I remember sitting down there one day with my uncles while another lady who wasn’t like Ms. Jackson walked by. I stopped cleaning the steps when I thought about her. I took my little notebook out of my back pocket and wrote this poem about the first time I saw her. Mommy said you and Ms. Nikki Giovanni write the things that can help me be a better poet so that’s why I’m putting you in these diary pages. Maybe someday you could read them and tell me what you think. Oh yeah, I finished the steps and went to see Esha and Ra. Esha said those girls wanted her to make a team with them and she told them yeah but she had to have me on it too. They said it was ok so now I gotta practice the step about the cherry tree. I’ll ask her to help me. Well, here go my poem. I hope you like it.

The Lady
I was sitting out front of the Lincoln Motel with Uncle Abe and Uncle Bell.
The train was making less noise than the day before.
They said I could wait there instead of behind the big door.
They poured liquor in their cups- Seagram’s and ice cubes.
Then they said wheeeeew

They said she was fine like sweet wine
They said she was fine I mean really fine
With all that body and all that hair
I just sat and watched them stare

They asked her to come give them some sugar
Like candaaay and apple brown butter
She said she ain’t here for all that
She looked at me and patted me on the back
She asked me was I alright
They asked her was she gon be there all night
I smiled and said yes
Then she patted my head and turned and spit
Why don’t yall go get a job or something
Quit poisoning our community with this fuckin
Shit…

You think mommy will be mad if she finds out I cursed? It wasn’t me, it was the lady.