poetry
spring/summer 2019

ON BEING CALLED THE N-WORD IN ATLANTA, 2016: A SOUTHERN GHAZAL

by teri elam

Photo: Midtown Atlanta Skyline by Chuck Huru

At six, barely knowing her A-B-Cs, first time this Southern girl called nigger

On the playground, hollow-pointed-word shot: her pint-sized heart caught “nigger”

 

Before flawless, now skewered, her heated veins drain their first blues—shame  

By Run Spot Run in school, kids learn mean tricks & invisible-ink her, nigger

 

At recess, taunting “eeny-meeny miney moe” boys run behind to snatch her up 

When “it” in hide-n-seek, but she knows she “ain’t nobody’s hollering nigger”

 

Her mama, who fought their fire with her own, would say, then roil ablaze after

Soiled-cotton-mouths snuff-drawled & spat at them both, “goddamn niggers”

 

Now older than her mother then, her toughened-tongue tries remixing to untooth it 

But Southern teeth grow fangs, this time a more forceful bite, “you nigger-bitch” 

 

And as if stuck in place, age six, she hemorrhages & rages & this Southern girl,

Boils & chokes up when venomous tongues noose-tie her name, call me—nigger. 

 

teri elam is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow, VONA Alum, and a Graduate Fellow of The Watering Hole. She is the Poetry Editor for The Stonecoast  

Review and a 2019 candidate for an MFA from University of Southern Maine. She lives in East Atlanta.

AUBURN AVENUE

"A penchant for the past with a promise for the present."

Auburn Avenue is an Atlanta-based, 

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the intellectual and creative voices 

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