Tenea grew up in the great land of Kentucke and
was blessed to be born a Johnson, "the latest
survivors in a long line of the constantly strong."
When the time came she left that land and soaked up
sunlight in Florida, acquiring a degree in Cultural
Studies along the way. She also learned how to coax
the stories from congas, djembes, dumbeks, harmonicas,
and jazz guitars. Together they made up musical
narratives--storytelling with music--and brought them
to NYC. So far the Knitting Factory, Dixon Place, The
Public Theater, and Washington Square Church have
opened their doors to the form. In between, she got
another Cultural studies degree (a Master's this time)
at NYU. She also writes fiction, academic essays,
creative nonfiction and the occasional biography. A
short story, "Passion Alliance Local 102 Brooklyn NY"
will soon appear in Shellac. In the spring of 2002 her
literary history of the Great Migrations and their
effect on the South's image in Black literature will
be included in Humanities in the South. She's also a
performing percussionist, and thanks you for reading
All poems © 2001
Tenea D. Johnson
Four Poems by Tenea D. Johnson
More than the white sand
darkened by the tides
More than the smell of the ocean
overpowering my dark moods
or even the army of shooting stars
kamkazeeing into the Gulf's warm waters
I think of you, Spanish moss
who I hadn't seen before or since.
I could never find your origin
understand how you came
to cover the trees.
To me, you were like snow
that never melted-excessive, decorative, picturesque.
I liked the mystery, so
I allowed you to remain one.
You were like a woman that way.
So it's with infatuation
that I think of you now when I think of Florida,
wondering if you retain your beauty,
fascinating me still.
When I wake up
I know that the first sight of your eyes in the
Dark Liquid Mesmerizing
Is just the tail end of a dream.
I miss the rhythm of your body dancing in bodegas
I miss the way we flowed
Like water when we made love
And how we met like energy,
Extending from one another
When we fucked, deep and long
I miss your voice, husky & smoked out
Saying Southern when the truth is Mid-Atlantic
It makes my name a verb, a command that moves me
Remembering this I know
This must be a great poem
So I start again . . .
I miss the rhythm of your body dancing in bodegas
& you lit up by headlights as the same shake
hits you in the driveway
circuits to your spine
as the radio turns you on & towards me.
Aria for a lightning bug
In a warm black night
I tried to hold you
inside of me
cooing words of love and hope
as you slipped from my ice cold fingers,
my vacant grasp.
"Stay with me,"
a hoarse whisper enveloped into the serenading wind
that beckoned you to other places,
other crevices in other souls.
The fist tightened around my heart opened
and you exited briskly.
The last blue firefly
lighting across my horizon.
I collapsed inward.
You had entered and picked me clean.
just a suggestion
(a musial narrative missing its music)
Ever since I was a little girl
It would piss me off
Knowing that I would never--ever go to space
And honestly it still pisses me off
But I've learned to appreciate the stars from a distance
(I mean, how could you not?)
Cause every night the sky unfolds
Comes all the way down here to be with you
Sparkles in the waters; fills the alleys
(The waters and alleys)
And what's right there in all that dark, all that
night, all that sky?
What's right there winking at you?
Lighting your way home
That's right--the stars
Always, the stars--las estrellas
You know I had a friend once who named himself Estrellita
His parents named him David
He named himself Estrellita
He said he couldn't find himself in his name,
that he was lost
So one night he walks all the way down to the end of a dock
and sits down, stares into one of those black Florida nights
Where you can't tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins
and there's a thin line of shadows between the two
And he stares out there for hours
Waiting for his enlightenment, his satori
Like it's just gonna come to him
And out there in the city lights and the wake of the moon
He found his answer. And do you know what it was?
One little star
Now a lot of people made fun of him,
myself included--cause that's what friends are for.
But the more I think about it, I think, I think maybe
he had a point.
That the stars are just as much of us as the earth.
So we could be just as much as the stars.
Now, I know what you may be thinking
But the thing about it--, well--, it's--, how--
Well I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy.
It's just a suggestion. You can take it or leave it.
I could show you what they've done for me.
Now when night falls
Cause it falls: like a drape, like a veil, like a dress
When night falls
I see constellations
but not of Busius or Tirisiu, or Sirius, or
I know who they are.
See that blue one over there, the twinkler?
That's my nanny.
She carried her burdens for a long and a many a year
But lately she's gotten young again--in the mind
She learned how to get past it
She feels the bloodlines of her mother,
and her mother before her
Armour, A R M O U R
Now when my grandmother was a girl
half my size and a quarter of my age
She used to watch at the gate
watch Armour in the field with a burlap sack
tossed across her back, listening for the trains
And when the trains would come
she'd walk to the tracks and place her sack on a pole
As a porter leaned out, threw off a burlap sack and
snatched the one that Armour had placed there
Now these rendezvous, they used to frighten my nanny
She didn't know that the sacks were filled with
nothing more than newspapers.
So that wherever the train went, so would Armour's mind.
More than the time her grandmother was put in jail for hitting a man
More than her arguments when white children were served before her
More than any of these things, this frightened my stonewall, spit fire nanny.
I imagine when she went to go live with her mother,
she would look back
upon what once frightened her, and she would laugh but more often cry.
My great-great grandmother's name was Armour A R M O U R
The other's name is .
Whenever I see a star fall near Nanny I call it a
train star, feel the rumble in my chest.
You see that one over there with the other's circling around it.
That's Madolin Rivers; she's a fable
Like St. Saundra, the Whistler, Little Rock and Big
Who've all gone home.
There aren't many old folks left to tell her tale
So the ones that came after paint only the scenery of her portrait
Cause the photographs lie
Show only life's toll
Not the beauty she made, gave freely
From a locket kept inside her
Whose match she could never find in all the malls in America.
She kept them though--her treasures and her trash
in a room with a round bed and the images her children left behind.
Madolin kept everything--even her children will tell
you she stayed with a fool.
Kept him too, I guess. Or maybe he kept her.
Now the night she died
that's a myth too.
Everyone has their own version
But I'll tell you what I think
She just slipped away.
She was tired and she went home.
So there you go two of the brightest
and I bet you didn't even know who they were.
Just goes to show the power of suggestion.
Now the morale to all this, if you have to have a
reason for sitting here
some of us,
perhaps a very few
cannot be contained in these
numbers, sound bytes, antique rings, or even quilts
Some of us are so great that only the infinity of the
sky can embraced us.
I come from a long line of such people
maybe you do to. Maybe just
maybe you can wrench yourself away from the
bright lights of the big city
and go visit them.