Birth Certificate: A Poem About What Black Women Must Do to Survive

 photo iStock_93389997_MEDIUM.jpg
by Chanel Dupree

So on my birth certificate my name reads
Yup. It reads channel
because when my mother found out she was pregnant with me she could only read and write on a second grade level

Thirty­-five years old
Her mouth was raised to make sure a man comes back home
As a child my mom lived directly across the street from the library

but never went in
Grandma taught her that
Cooking these dinners
And greeting your man with a silent mouth and open arms was a better lesson
But my momma realized she will be raising someone brown
And to the world brown ain't supposed to know how to take the tongue and use it right
So in nine months my mother taught herself how to read
Everyday after her feet were swollen from work
She took her whip lash tongue to the library and transformed it into a fist
Because this brown something may not be alive for too long
But it will talk like it got something important to say
This world got us shackled already
But they can't cage our spit too
She recited sentences until her mouth was filled with satisfaction
E­-a-­c-­h s-­e-­n-­t-­e-­n-­c-­e she recited slowly melted the chains from her unborn's throat
The day I was born she could actually read a Malcolm X speech
It was the day she could finally say she let a black body run free

There were nothing but books in my house.
For two hours a day since I was two years old she would sit me down and make me read
And unlike her
my mouth didn't taste the glory of this
One day I decided to walk up on her like I was grown and ask "why you forcing me to read things I don't care about"
She looked at me; with her freedom paper tongue and said
"This world will have you feeling inadequate, and I be damn if I raise you that way. And you're a woman, your mouth will be asked to do many things and saying these words right will be the first shit u gon do".

I was thirteen when she heard my first poem
She broke down into tears
Thanked every God that was listening
She was amazed that my mouth will not lay flat as a plantation

but stern like a black woman's spine
I still have to h­-e-­l-­p h-­e-­r with certain words
But this woman; this woman turned spit into survival
She made a mouth worth more than ignorance and swallowing

Photo: iStockPhoto

Chanel Dupree is a 22-year-old poet & playwright from Brooklyn, NY. She has facilitated creative writing workshops for the United Nations and Yale University. She has performed at the National Black Writers Conference, the National Poetry slam and many colleges. Her one act play was just presented off Broadway. She is a Pink Door fellow as well as a Cambridge Writers and Winter Tangerine recipient.  She is currently working on a full length play.