by Kay Bell
Maybe, we all got on the flight to America;
our sister and I shared the window seat;
you sat on mummy’s lap
and then she left us.
Maybe, you will have your first birthday in Apt 5A.
Cake, ice cream and our sister’s cries
balanced on the rooftop of grandma’s bad temper.
Then, we grow up sitting stone faced on top of the blue velvet sofa,
silent talking, believing: “mum’s coming back.”
We brave the brown leather straps; eat Dinty Moore beef stew,
and read stories about siblings who were abandoned
but still humane enough to leave bread for the birds.
I can see us all now; checks stamped to our foreheads,
overweight and voiceless;
Maybe we will love each other?
Subsequently, mum will return with war stories
by courtesy of her husband who proudly smashes her face against the seasons.
But then again, you can always pretend it never happened;
slip out of mummy’s lap,
cry on the white beach of Barbados, pick up your packages from the Mail service,
eat Avocados out of your backyard
and write Christmas cards to the 17-year-old that birthed you…
First appeared in Free Library of the Internet Void 2018.
Kay Bell has been published in the book Brown Molasses Sunday: An Anthology of Black Women Writers, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, The Write Launch, as well as other venues. She considers herself a bibliophile and lives in the Bronx with her sons, Zaire and Morocco, and their tabby cat, Chad.
Kay says, “My style of writing is autobiographical but also very confessional. It’s like, ‘I may have never said this to your face, but here it is.’ Sometimes I’m just confessing to myself, truths I refuse to say aloud. I tend to have a hard time verbally expressing myself, but poetry helps me to articulate my feelings.”
Bekah and Kay’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared together in Collection II of Free Library of the Internet Void. We wanted to know more about Kay and her work, so here is our interview with her.
Q~Tell us a little about “Maybe.” Is there a backstory you want to share? How is the poem representative of your work?
A~The poem “Maybe” is a good example of what I mean by writing autobiographical confessionals. This poem is a conversation I wanted to have with my brother about my life coming to America. My siblings and I were born in the Caribbean. However, my mother made the decision to bring my sister and me to America and leave my brother back home with family. My brother resented my sister and me because he often thought we had a better life here in America. I never told him how I felt about what he felt, but “Maybe” is my response to his feelings. I think this poem is not only representative of my work because it’s declares something I never said aloud, but also because my poetry tends to always become a narrative. It’s also important to me that people have questions after reading my work.
Q~In your bio at Internet Void you said, “If it makes me cry, sweat or bleed, then it is worth writing about.” Can you tell us why you feel this way?
A~Nothing is off limits. If it is something I have experienced, it is worth writing about.
Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?
A~Absolutely. I think I’m constantly returning to family life in my work. I have always been intrigued with the family life and how it functions and the personalities and identities of all the people that work together to make it a unit. I am equally fascinated by how fragile it can be, and I often find myself examining its dysfunctionality.
Q~How has your family reacted to your poetry?
A~They are not familiar with my work. I have tried to read to them but it kind of goes over their heads. They don’t understand it or maybe choose not to.
Q~Why do you write poetry?
A~I have always loved all types of music, and that has helped my passion for poetry develop. Growing up in my house there was always music playing. Mostly reggae. My uncle was a disc jockey, and he helped raised me. My mother loved playing reggae tunes while cooking, cleaning and just to lighten the vibe at home. I took my love for music and started writing poems. I hear music when I write, poetry is my music.
Q~What song is on repeat on your MP3 player right now?
A~It’s actually a tie between Tori Kelly’s “It Should have Been Us” and a song named “Texting” by Wstrn featuring Alkaline.
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~My first poetry love was Nikki Giovanni. Her work is so practical, honest and revolutionary. When I tumbled across her poetry in a college library during my first years of undergrad, I had never heard a black woman so self-assured and intelligent. Her poetry not only showed me how to better use my words, but it helped me mature as a black woman and writer. Ms. Giovanni’s work taught me confidence, sincerity, and how to be relatable.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~I just picked up Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and cannot put it down. I was also just reading Charles Simic’s Scribbled in the Dark. I like contemporary poetry, but I really appreciate classics, too. I am also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah before summer ends.
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~The poem will never be perfect. I often hear people say that they have never submitted a piece of work to a publisher because they have been editing it for a year. I’m like, “let go and give it to someone who needs it.” We write not only for ourselves but because there is someone who needs to hear it. I think as writers we tend to get obsessed with our work. If you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel calm after editing your work a few times, let it go.
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~My website is www.iamkaybell.com. There are published and unpublished poems there, as well as a tab that will connect you to a list of places where I am published. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.