Selected Poems by Ladan Osman

Living room, night.

Mother:

I had a dream you were dancing.

Daughter:

Was I happy? Was I alone?

Mother:

I don’t know why I told you that. I really had a dream you were being dragged.

Daughter:

Was I alone?


 

A city bus, quarter-full. Afternoon. Man 1 is light-skinned, wiry, past middle age. Man 2 is brown-skinned, soft-bodied, also past middle age. Both are intoxicated. They sit perpendicular to each other: Man 1 facing front of bus, Man 2 facing seats across him. There’s also an elderly black woman, a young black man, and a projection collaging a young black woman.

Man 1:

I love my black people.

Man 2:

So do I.

Man 1:

You don’t love shit. I heard you, I heard you talking. I hear what you’re saying.

Man 2:

You don’t know.

Man 1:

I’m a black king. I’m a child of God.

Man 2:

I love our people. (Passes Man 1 bottle) We have to be good to each other.

Man 1:

(Empties bottle. Puts it on empty seat in front of him.) I’m a black king. You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Man 2:

(To people sitting across from him) I want our people to live. I want us to support each other. I want us to love each other. We have to love each other.

Man 1:

You don’t love shit! I heard you! I heard what you’re saying, thinking I can’t hear you. (Doffs Man 2’s hat) I’m a black king. I’m a child of God.

Man 2:

(Picks up hat) I’m a veteran. (Puts on hat)

Man 1:

I was in the Army, bitch. I went to war, bitch. I’m a fucking Black Panther. I’m a killer. I’ll knock you into next week. Watch your fucking mouth.

Man 2:

What did I say?

Man 1:

You know what you said!

Man 2:

I said I love my people. I said I love my sons.

Man 1:

I heard what you’re saying about us. We’re children of God.

Man 2:

I said I miss my sons. I said I grieve my sons.

Man 1:

I was in the Marines, you bitch. (Young man laughs) I won’t kill you because I’m a child of God but I’ll break every bone in your body. Get off the bus right now.

Man 2:

Why?

Man 1:

So I can knock your ass down.

Man 2:

Why?

Man 1:

I’m special forces. I’m a thriller killer. I’ll liquefy you. (Young man laughs, starts recording scene on his phone)

Man 2:

You’re saying you love black people but want to kill me? Why?

Man 1:

You’re fighting for the wrong things. They don’t love us. They killed us.

Man 2:

You’re a veteran, too.

Man 1:

I was in the Army. You’re a Marine Corps bitch. You’re a damn criminal. We’re children of God and you’re talking about us.

Man 2:

You say you love black people but you don’t love me.

Man 1:

Because I heard you talking. I heard you talking quiet.

Man 2:

What’d I say?

(Next to the young man: a projection of archival images appears; iconic black women with natural hair arranged to create a specter woman. Young man glances over, stops laughing, puts his phone away.)

Man 1:

An Afro! Angela Davis! (Raises fist) It’s 2017 and I see my people!

Man 2:

What’d I say?

Man 1:

You hate us. You hate yourself. Get up so I can knock you back into the Army.

Man 2:

I was in the Marines.

Man 1:

I was in the Marines. You’re a bitch. (To specter) Excuse my language.

Man 2:

I want us to love each other.

Man 1:

(Stands over Man 2, doffs his hat again.) Get up right now. Watch your fucking language. You see this lady over here with the Afro. You’re in the way.

Man 2:

I love my sons. (Looks at hat but doesn’t pick it up. It’s worn but clean, with foreign wars and Marines insignia. It sits partially illuminated on bus floor. )

Man 1:

Get up!

Man 2:

I love my sons. They killed my children.

Man 1:

Get up off this bus right now so I can kick. Your. Ass.

Man 2:

(Looking at passengers across him) He said he loves black people but he doesn’t love me.

Man 1:

You don’t love your skin. You don’t love your hair. You don’t know yourself. I’m going to knock you out your shoes. I’m going to detach your body from your ankles.

Man 2:

(Fishes in a black grocery bag) Take my water and calm down.

[Passengers gradually exit so seats across Man 2 are empty in next few moments]

Man 1:

(Pauses, takes water, drinks most of bottle, shrill) Get your ass up! Get up!

Man 2:

I don’t have any more drink. I gave you my water and you don’t love me.

Man 1:

(Shoves Man 2’s shoulder with free hand, loses balance) Cuz you don’t love shit.

Man 2:

I’m grieving for my sons. (Starts crying) Why do they kill my boys? (Older black woman begins watching them, stunned, sympathetic)

Man 1:

Get your ass up right now. You didn’t check yourself so I’m going to wreck you.

Bus Driver:

Hey! Not today! Not on this bus!

Man 2:

They killed us. We didn’t choose to come here. We didn’t choose to come. (To the specter, surprised) That’s a pretty woman. Oh my God.

Man 1:

(Sits down) You’re getting in the way. Get up off this bus and walk around.

Man 2:

I’ll get off the bus.

Man 1:

Get off this bus and walk around. And go home and let your girl ask you where you been this week.

Man 2:

(Turns to him, laughs)

Man 1:

Go tell your girl cuz your woman is a black girl and black women don’t take any mess. Go home to your girl and get your ass beat.

Man 2:

Yeah.

Man 1:

Go home and let your girl beat your ass. You bitch. (Young man laughs, starts recording again)

Man 2:

I’m going home.

Man 1:

I told you to watch your fucking mouth in front of this lady. (They look at specter)

Man 2:

I said I love my sons. I said I love my girls. I said I love my people.

Man 1:

You don’t love shit! (Agitated again) I’ll get my girls to come get you, come kill you.

Man 2:

(Finally registers offense) How about I get my girls after you? (Specter flickers)

Man 1:

(Incensed, leans forward) Get your ass up right now. See this black skin? I’m a killer, I’m a stone.

Man 2:

(Quietly) I’m black. I’m black as you.

Man 1:

(Raises fist, then hits his own chest) I’m a Panther.

Man 2:

(To specter, calm) Was he a Panther?

Man 1:

(Staring straight ahead) They taught me how to beat you so no one sees you’re dead. I’ll leave you standing dead on any block, on any day, any time, get up off this bus.

Man 2:

(Picks up his hat) Calm down. (Puts on hat)

Man 1:

You’re the one talking. You’re drunk.

Man 2:

And high.

Man 1:

You’re the one who’s starting everything and getting in the way.

Man 2:

I’m high, too. (Struggles to get up) I’m getting off. I’m going home.

Man 1:

(Drinks rest of water) Don’t talk about us. I don’t want to hear you talking about us. God made our women the prettiest and our men the strongest. Our women are the prettiest. Our women are the prettiest and the best and the realest and the prettiest.

[Pause. Silence. Passengers watch him.]

Man 2:

(Stands in bright bus door, is briefly illuminated, silhouetted. Exits)

Man 1:

(Stands up, loses balance a few times, screams) And we got a fool bus driver! (Young man laughs)

Man 1:

We got a fool driver that loves fucking with people.

Bus Driver:

Hey man!

Man 1:

(Moves to sit across from specter) Look at your hair. Do you know Angela Davis? Do you know the Panthers? Hey. God bless you. (Stops short of touching its “shoulder”) God bless you. God bless you. (Stands up, faces back of bus) I hear you talking about my people. Stop talking about us. (Young man looks behind him, sees no one. There’s a series of glitches, an almost-image of a middle-aged black man sitting, relaxed, with his arms spread out over back of bus seats. A smile is apparent, image flickers) Don’t fucking talk about us. We’re the kings of God. We’re the children of God. (Leans over young man, screaming. Young man fidgets.) I fucking hate you! (To young man) Not you, the one behind you. (Young man, older woman look at glitching image of relaxed man.) He’s talking about us and I want him to stop! (A smile is apparent, image flickers.) I told you to stop talking about my beautiful black sister. (Specter-woman flickers. Man 1 looks at her.) God bless you God bless you God blessed us God bless you. (Stands in bright bus door, crushes water bottle in his right hand. He’s also briefly illuminated, silhouetted, exits)

Older woman:

(Moves to sit perpendicular to specter. Young man stares. He no longer looks at specter but watches the elder.) Do you know how that started [Pause] Do you know what they were saying before they were fighting? [Pause] They were strangers, it’s obvious they didn’t know each other. [Pause] They were sharing a bottle. [Pause] They were sharing water. [Pause] The one kept saying the other hated his people but I didn’t hear that. I believed him when he said he loves us. [Pause] Then he was crying. Did you see he was crying?  [Pause] The one kept bothering the other… I realize our people are traumatized. I feel like they saw you, and remembered something. [Pause] The one went back to his time. Maybe he was a Panther. Was he a Panther? [Pause]The one was aggressive but he didn’t actually do anything. [Pause] I told them both to have a good day but I said it quiet. Maybe you couldn’t hear it. [Pause.]
(Specter flickers. Woman struggles to get up. She steps out of bus in reverse with difficulty, her limbs splayed. She’s briefly illuminated, silhouetted. Her figure looks cartoonishly like a chalk outline. She exits. The young man sits. The driver narrates traffic, punctuating with his horn.)


Ladan Osman is the author of The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony. Her writing and photographs have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Rumpus, Transition, and Washington Square Review. Osman is a contributing culture editor for The Blueshift Journal. She lives in Brooklyn.

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