Ballad of the Back Steps

Children run

by Tahirah Joyce Walker


There may be twelve front steps at my house

But the back has a lot more

Full of stuff to clean up

Daddy has his book and his group

But they don’t do the steps like me and mommy do

They have coffee cups and chairs in circles

Everything round

The pot where they get the coffee

hands talking in swoops

cheeks of the one who always says 

hey man, how you doin’ oh I miss you man

And they talk about the steps 

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need help

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

The real steps

those back ones at my house are

Rows of rectangle

Grooves dug deep with diamond tip drill bits

Nailheads straining their necks to see beyond the ones in front of them

washrags, socks, and thoughts get caught 

My knees hurt when I get up from trying to clean in the corners where I can hardly see

Spic and span

Stain on my hands

But clean for daddy

No new clean date

No need to wait

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need  help

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

Mommy hollers calllllllyourmuthafuckin    sponsssah

the man with the cheeks

comes over to the house

Jolly

Up the front steps

Never down the chimney

If we have a chimney

But I really want to show him the back 

where we have been trying to keep it so clean

Cleaner than the keychain daddy has

I want to 

tell Mr. Cheeks 

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need help

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

One time I even tried a little comb from the hygiene kit they gave us at school

It broke off and a little piece is still in the         crack of

the steps’ beautiful brown and gold patterns just like mommy’s 

skin

stretch marks 

look like art 

impressionist expressionist Picasso maybe

Before he was blue

Her     skin    is a masterpiece

She says “well, that’s the oatmeal baths see you gotta take care of yourself, boo boo.” 

I try

I really do

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need help

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

He plays his conga drums until he is covered in sweat forehead nose arms glisten

Is he healing himself? Is it working?

Maybe not

Maybe that is why he gets mad

tries to break her skin like the back steps 

She keeps a towel by their bed now

I see her open it sometimes and spread it across her lap 

think it makes her feel better

She also keeps a box of Nilla wafers by the bed 

tells me I can have some when we watch tv together in her room 

puts them in a piece of paper towel for me 

just a piece – I don’t need a whole sheet

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need help

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

Grandma’s eyes would dance around my face before she smiled and said 

“Do you want a donut, girl?” 

Finger curled through the middle and around the powdered edge

After my nod and ET reach

She set forth an unfurl 

Pointing me and my donut 

to those back steps

to be ready

for all the cleaning 

they would need after she had forever gone.

Now it’s cookies and MacGuyver and mommy’s eyes searching from my face, to the door and back to the tv

like she’s looking for something

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we need him to help us

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I         use

The other night, I told her she didn’t have to check the back steps anymore

that I knew how to keep them clean

that I would take care of them

She crunched her cookie 

with her mouth closed

took a breath through her nose and nodded her head

swallowed and said “It’s ok. It’s time for us to move anyway.” 

We have been here the longest time 

Used to move every year

“We are always trying to do better, boo boo.” 

A smoothing ritual for something with new steps

However many there may be

I know all the shortcomings 

I know all the places where we help 

I know where the blood doesn’t come up

I know where the hair she lost in the last beating doesn’t wipe away 

no matter what I use