A White Man in the Audience Said I Owed Him

not because I was a Black woman, but because I was a poet
and he was a reader, and he needed me to explain

how some things are inseparable. My great-grandmother
nourished her family on a love she tended

on land she didn’t own. Some things grew inside of her,
and some refused to. Her life was meant to pay a debt.

Here I was in a room, trying to clarify what could make scars
timeless, sealed mouths floating across generations.

Someone is always trying me when they get offended,
putting their fingers in my truth to examine the quality of my teeth.

My great-grandmother never said a lot with her mouth. I should’ve paid
more attention when she gave her words away.

She carried a debt that meant you earned her laughter,
would turn away, humming gospel at the hint of a stupid question.

When generous, she gave a look that told a lesson,
taught me how to read the world in what goes unsaid.

There has to be something I don’t owe anyone.
I’m glad there are stories that died with her.