The Language of Joy

Jacqueline Allen Trimble

Black woman joy is like this:Mama said one day long before I was bornshe was walking down the street,foxes around her neck, their little headssmiling up at her and out at the worldand she was wearing this suit she had saved upa month's paycheck for after it called to her so seductivelyfrom the window of this boutique. And that suitwas wearing her, keeping all its promisesin all the right places. Indigo. Matching gloves.Suede shoes dippity-do-dahed in blue.With tassels! Honey gold. And, Lord, a hatwith plume de peacock, a conductor's baton that bouncedto hip rhythm. She looked so fine she thoughtLouis Armstrong might pop up out of those moviesshe saw as a child, wipe his forehead and singba da be bop oh do de doe de doe doe.And he did. Mama did not sing but she was skiddly-doing that day,and the foxes grinned, and she grinnedand she was the star of her own Hollywood musicalhere with Satchmo who had called Ella over and now they were allsinging and dancing like a free people up Dexter Avenue,and don't think they didn't know they were walking in the footstepsof slaves and over auction sites and past where old Wallacehad held onto segregation like a life raft, but thiswas not that day. This day was for foxes and hip rhythmand musical perfection and folks on the street joining in the celebrationof breath and holiness. And they did too. In color-coordinated ensembles,they kicked and turned and grinned and shouted like churchor football game, whatever their religious preference. The airvibrated with music, arms, legs, and years of unrequitedsunshine. Somebody did a flip up Dexter Avenue.It must have been a Nicholas Brother in a featured performance,and Mama was Miss Lena-Horne-Dorothy-Dandridgehigh-stepping up the real estate, ready for her close-up.That's when Mama felt this little tickle. She thoughtit might be pent-up joy, until a mouse squirmed outfrom underneath that fine collar, over that fabulous fur,jumped off her shoulder and ran down the street.Left my mama standing there on Dexter Avenue in her bluesuit and dead foxes. And what did Mama do?Everybody looking at her, robbed by embarrassment?She said, "It be like that sometimes," then she and Satchmo,Ella, and the whole crew jammed their way home.

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Jacqueline Allen Trimble is a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow (Poetry), a Cave Canem Fellow, and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellow. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Poetry Magazine, The Louisville Review, The Offing, and Poet Lore. Published by NewSouth Books, American Happiness, her debut collection, won the 2016 Balcones Poetry Prize. She lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is Professor of English and chairs the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. Her new collection, How to Survive the End of the World, is forthcoming from NewSouth Books in April 2022.

Cover of Poetry July/August 2021

July/August 2021

Chicago, Illinois

Adrian Matejka

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Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.

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