Remembering My People

By PJ

Look at my people

And Grandma’s slow movement
In her knee-length gown, slippers on
Braids cover her head, like a crown
I love her bold features, her high cheekbones
Broad hands grip her snuff can, and her eyes
They have a far away stare
But they’re focused as they keep secrets

Daddy’s fat hands pat his afro, as he picks it
I love the smell of his cigarettes
He always looks at me like he can see everything
Like he’s far ahead of what I think; he’s so serious

Mama, with her determined walk, never a wasted movement
So patient, and understanding; a refuge of sorts, from Daddy
She always indulges me
It seems they look alike with their afros and their slacks, their button-down shirts
They say opposites attract; she’s as light-hearted and forgiving as he is intense

Brother’s smile, looking like Daddy
With Mama’s patience, Grandma’s wisdom, and my innocence
My faithful companion, my confidant
I try to mirror him with his smooth black skin and wavy hair
The way he sucks-in his cheeks and puckers his lips
I recall drawing a mustache over my lips to mimic the peach-fuzz over his

Grandaddy’s big feet as he walked, dragging his black, big shoes
I recall: his hat and coat hanging in the hall by the stairs; I’d try-on both
Still today, I remember the smell of the inside of his fedora
Like Barbasol and Old Spice
Look at me, remembering my people

Grandma’s wisdom came from her full lips as I looked into her tired eyes
Never can I forget the deep lines in her face; wrinkled
She told of times long ago before slipping again into her doze
Being as young as I was, I couldn’t comprehend when she talked about love
Older now, I realize: hers was a traumatic experience
Now I understand: she had enough hope to dance around intimate details of: whips and ropes

Once I heard Daddy talking to Mama, he mentioned
Being called a nig–, again- I call David that all the time
Daddy said: “It reminds me of Virginia where they hung Tim.”
He said he hates remembering: Tim’s body swinging and jerking; he could still see the twisted mouth
Daddy said: “I hate what happened in the South.”

Brother’s eyes, they look just like Daddy’s
When he came to see me I rushed him – to say goodbye
Later – they found him beaten and shot
Brother’s companionship is deeply missed as he slips into drug and alcohol addiction
Brother’s “tagging” at my hip is a memory only as he’s been engulfed by the streets
His naïveté replaced with ruthless ambition; a do or die attitude
To get money, there’s nothing he won’t do
How did my brother become enslaved in the 21st century?
New chains, a life sentence that he can’t escape
In a penitentiary

Mama’s cries sometimes are silent
But they’ve embedded and etched the pain on her face
She carries her sorrows everywhere, that way
Still she’s beautiful, in more than a weathered way
Surrounded by masculinity, she’s the glue
Without her what would we do?
When Brother died, I never saw her cry
When I cried, only a look of familiarity
After Daddy’s death she was the pillar of stability
She’s family quintessence
Where it begins

Look at me
Remembering my people

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25 Comments

  1. Reid Baron on September 2, 2020 at 4:42 PM

    The end line works really well, to put us into the scene, and watching you survey it.

  2. Hannah on September 8, 2020 at 9:01 AM

    This poem had amazing imagery. I really like how descriptive each part was.

  3. Nora on September 8, 2020 at 9:05 AM

    Hi PJ,

    I love this poem. I love the structure you used with each stanza attributed to each family member. Your descriptive language of your family is excellent. I can see, smell, and hear all of them. I can really feel your pain and your family’s pain in this poem. It is especially palpable in the lines “Mama’s cries sometimes are silent / But they’ve embedded and etched the pain on her face / She carries her sorrows everywhere, that way
    / Still she’s beautiful, in more than a weathered way”.

    Really excellent work!

    –Nora

  4. Zo on September 8, 2020 at 9:05 AM

    PJ,
    I love reading about people, and your poem did just that. I was able to envision each of your family members… their looks, their attitudes, their beliefs. It is true that mothers are the glue that holds families together.
    You were able to approach racism in a subtle way, that I was not expected, but made it hit the reader immediately and consider the events of both the past and present day.
    I really enjoyed reading this and would definitely encourage you to some day write a book about your families experiences while weaving poetry through it.

  5. Anneliese on September 8, 2020 at 9:07 AM

    I want to start by saying how amazing your poem was. The way you carefully string all your words together brings so much beauty to your poem. I loved how deeply you described everything in your poem because it allows us to better see what you are picturing while you are writing and it allows us to better connect with the poem.

  6. Hannah on September 8, 2020 at 9:07 AM

    The loss of a loved one is so difficult. You did a beautiful job of capturing their images.

  7. Kendall on September 8, 2020 at 9:10 AM

    This poem gives me a reminder to always remember your people know matter what has happened to them throughout your life. There are good times to think about instead of focusing on the bad that happened to them.

  8. Chloe on September 8, 2020 at 9:15 AM

    Hi PJ, thank you for sharing this raw emotion. Your imagery is incredible. Your piece is intense and moving, I like how it was structured to move through your family members and timeline. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read about you and your families lives.

  9. Kellyn on September 29, 2020 at 7:44 PM

    My heart breaks for all the pain that your family has been through. You are an amazing writer, and all your descriptions put very clear images in my head. I hope you keep writing because it is power works of art like this that inspire people to fight for social justice.

  10. Angela on September 29, 2020 at 7:50 PM

    I am thoroughly impressed by how effectively you maintain the tone of innocence while describing all of the struggles that you and your family have witnessed and endured. It makes it that much more powerful when it becomes clear what some of the things are that you’re addressing.

  11. Helina on September 29, 2020 at 7:56 PM

    A truly powerful poem packed with so much emotion.

  12. Steffy on September 29, 2020 at 8:02 PM

    Your poem is filled with so many different emotions. The intensity of the love, trust, and admiration your carry for you people is truly immense and I can sense that. I enjoyed every single line of your poem. Thank you for writing it and allowing me to read it.

  13. Abigail Cross on September 29, 2020 at 8:56 PM

    -PJ,
    I am so sorry that you have had to suffer many these losses at such a young age. But, your memory of them in this poem is so beautiful and touching. I especially like how you tell a story about each individual family member, and then connect them by how they look and/or act. I also like how you include how these stories impacted you (ex.”I try to mirror him with his smooth black skin and wavy hair”). This is a great poem, and I hope that you keep writing!

  14. Maya S. on October 4, 2020 at 9:40 PM

    PJ, this is a really beautiful poem about your family. In so few words, you were able to describe them so vividly that they came alive for me. I felt like I could really see them. I love how you showed their interconnectedness, how their personalities differed and complimented each other, and how much they mean to you. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this. Best, Maya

  15. Piper on October 5, 2020 at 12:56 PM

    The imagery in this was INSANE. Bravo!! I really felt like I was seeing your family. The mix of the older generations and younger generations is something I find so compelling. The effects we have on each other are so similar, yet so different that sometimes history just boggles my mind. It sometimes feels like the same struggles happen in every generation, like now with BLM it’s our generation’s civil rights movement. Progress never stops thank goodness but on the other hand that always means there’s something that needs to be fixed.

  16. Joshua Redd on October 8, 2020 at 1:53 PM

    I love this piece. It reminded me of my own Grandmother. The imagery was spectacular. Thank you so much for inviting us to this piece of your life.

  17. Kennedi on October 15, 2020 at 11:28 PM

    This poem was very well written and was very powerful! The imagery that you expressed was very good! This is difficult to talk about but you expressed it perfectly! Keep up the good work and never hold back what you are feeling, always express it through writing!

  18. Dyemone on October 20, 2020 at 11:46 AM

    Hey PJ,

    This poem was so heartful, the love that you have for your family shows in this poem. I loved the ending part where you give your reader the vision of you just standing there observing your family. Thank you for sharing this masterpiece. I hope you continue to write.

  19. N. B. on October 20, 2020 at 1:00 PM

    Wow, this is a truly powerful and deep poem you wrote. The imagery strong, the diction compelling. I felt like I was looking into a window and watching your family, and I really liked how you observed the smallest, yet important, details in your family members’ actions and mannerisms. Aside from being a fantastic piece of writing about your family, it touches on a deep problem that the US has today, as you are far from the only one asking: “How did my brother become enslaved in the 21st century? / New chains, a life sentence that he can’t escape / In a penitentiary.” You also shared with us some very scary and traumatic moments in your life. In this poem I truly feel the intensity of your burning and never ending love for your family. I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope you will continue to express yourself through your beautiful writing.

  20. Eva on October 20, 2020 at 7:59 PM

    PJ, this poem was beautifully written and your use of imagery made it so easy to picture each person in your memory. Sometimes all we have are memories like these to remember people by, and this poem spoke to my own memories of lost loved ones. It is by no mens easy to deal with losing someone, but I hope you find strength in your memories.

  21. Anish Kaza on October 28, 2020 at 2:39 PM

    The poem was very well written and descriptive. It really is a beautiful poem about your family.

  22. Logan on November 5, 2020 at 2:56 PM

    PJ, I tried to come up with something to say, but the only way to describe it was breathtaking. It made me speechless to read, the tragedies and resolute ending line. It was chilling, harrowing even, to read about the horrors your family has seen. I’m sorry you ever had to hear about it, and that they ever had to witness such things. I would undo it all if I could, but I can’t. Keep writing man, this stuff is very important in our world today.

  23. Rachel on November 11, 2020 at 2:56 PM

    I really love the imagery in your poem. It was like I was right there with you as you were describing your family. I can feel your raw emotion as you read, and your inner heart stood out as I felt your innocence as you described yourself as a young child.

  24. Maggie on December 11, 2020 at 6:21 PM

    I really liked the use of details throughout this poem! I thought it was very deep and personal.

  25. Virginia on January 17, 2021 at 10:45 PM

    Wow PJ, thank you for sharing this deep and powerful insight into your family and emotions. I like how you lovingly and carefully describe each family member; you share so much about them just by providing little details like the way you would put on your Grandaddy’s hat (and smell its distinctive smells) or draw a mustache like your brother’s. You really effectively convey the character and role of each of those people, which makes it even more powerful when you introduce the conflict into the poem: the historical and current-day struggles that the family has gone through. I thought the way you repeated the phrase about looking at/remembering your people was just brilliant.

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