Must Be Mega


Gwendolyn Brooks

From Poetry:

My daughter is ten. She doesn’t know about boys yet and she wants to be a star of some undetermined variety — an opera singer or actor maybe. She is beautiful in every way the word beautiful signifies itself, with brown skin that gets some red in it under the summer sun. She’s got enormous, dark eyes and she never gets enough sleep so there is always a minor set of bags under them. She is graceful in the world in the way that someone who doesn’t think about the world is graceful.

And she will get pulled over by the cops, whether she’s singing at the Met or living in an artist’s house in Detroit. She is a flower and she needs to know “where wheels and people are” but I don’t have the right words. Trying to explain the cops to her while cloistered and relatively safe in Bloomington, Indiana, is as out-of-bounds as trying to explain the pistons that make the car turn to a daisy.

“Young Afrikans” is from Brooks’s book Family Pictures. The whole collection navigates the way beauty and self-worth can be taught and shared inside of the community even as the outside community works to devalue and resist those beauties. In Family Pictures, that devaluing often comes in some violent form and resistance requires anger, kindness, and awareness of that forthcoming violence. “Young Afrikans,” in particular, advocates for aggressive, aware resistance that might also include violence in return. What sat with me as I tried to form the right words was Brooks’s warning in the poem that even in kindness we must be mindful and hang onto our respective angers for clarity:

As for that other kind of  kindness,
if there is milk it must be mindful.
The milkofhumankindness must be mindful
as wily wines.
Must be fine fury.
Must be mega, must be main.

Right now my daughter has neither anger nor mindfulness and part of why the conversation was so full of stutters and stops is the future: both anger and mindfulness are waiting for her nearby on the other side of age ten. Especially if we still live in Indiana. When my daughter gets her driver’s license, she will get pulled over because she is not white and she herself will need to be “mindful / as wily wines.”

“Family Pictures, Old & New”, Adrian Matejka, Poetry