Beautiful is Harlem
by Kecia Romiel
I lived in a one-bedroom polygon in a place where black was beautiful. Unless you didn’t have a pretty face. Unless you didn’t have manageable hair. Or you didn’t smack your Vaseline covered lips every time you finished a sentence. I was in-between. I was in between beautiful and sickly, when my siblings asked me, “What happened to the pretty little 8-year-old girl?” and then they laughed.
I was in-between with manageable hair and a jungle of knots and then one night my father thought my hair was giving me nightmares and crept into the night with scissors.
Nightmares shaped themselves into sticks and stones. They chased me across my fingertips.
There was water, crusted blue jewels everywhere.
I wasn’t beautiful in school and I should stop talking the way I do ’cause, I live in Harlem. Maybe then I’d be beautifully black in Harlem.
In school, befriended the kid-that-peed-in-the-corner-of-the-classroom-that-one-time, ’cause he didn’t ask questions about why I talked the way I do or why I didn’t talk the way I do all the time. He’d just tell me stories about how he sailed with pirates and blasted white heat out of his hands.
I wasn’t him, but I wish I was him, ’cause no body talked to him. No one dared talk to him and that was better than hearing, “You’re sooo skinny.” “Why is your eyes like that?” “You aren’t black enough for us.” But wasn’t I black, too?
Wasn’t my skin dark enough for the kids that wore hoop earrings in middle school? The problem must have been I wasn’t pretty enough to be beautiful in Harlem.