a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
in 1937, attracting many middle-class Black families.
–The Miami Herald
My mama had lavish garden plots. She planted
sweet potatoes, collards & beans. The tomatoes
were larger than my father’s hands. The mangoes,
round as my baby sister’s head. No need to lock
our doors, nor close our windows. Our sleep was sweet
when the midnight breeze slipped through our rooms.
The peace of Paradise was ours. The white folks
lived far on the other side of a painted yellow
knee-high wall, but we paid those folks no mind.
Trumpeters marched through here on Friday nights.
Calypso swelled. We danced the streets like freedom.
When daylight came that same old wall flashed
like a warning, like a promise never guaranteed.
Everybody worked & raised their children. Nobody
These days in Liberty Square,
the people are living through war, & we can’t run.
Every which way the bullets are chasing us.
I miss my parents every day, but I’m glad
they’ve passed so they’re not here to see this mess.
What happened to Mrs. Jenkins’ daughter
would’ve made my mama talk to God all hours.
Her prayers would’ve spilled out into the square
where teddy bears and candles bless the dead.
What is agreed upon is this:
the defendants, Damon Darling
& Leroy LaRose, were involved
in a shoot-out in Liberty Square
after a failed marijuana deal.
A girl was shot dead.
My daughter is not a bullet.
My daughter is an honors student.
My daughter plays violin.
Don’t call her dead again!
What is agreed upon is this: The State of Florida versus Damon Darling.
DD: My real story won’t ink the paper.
Reporters will spill their pens & spin
their sentences & say I was nothing
more than a felon, a murderer.
I didn’t mean to kill that girl.
I’ve got a Mama & sisters,
but I grew up on a street
where I had to keep my head
on a swivel, & my ears peeled
for every tire squeal. I don’t know
my daddy from the man on the corner
spouting scriptures. But I do know
juries send men like me to jail. They
don’t know I only bought a gun
to protect myself.
What is agreed upon is this: The State of Florida versus Leroy LaRose.
LL: A person is what they grow up seeing.
Do you know how many people I saw
murdered before I was ten?
All of us were bound by the dead.
I was a straight-A student,
& a member of the National Honor Society.
My teachers told Moms I could be anything,
but I guess that never sank in.
Math was real natural to me. Equations
swirled in my head. My friends
used to joke: Man, you better at Trig
than Mr. St. Fleur, & then we’d laugh.
The day that girl got killed
was the worst day of my life.
If I could have took that bullet for her,
I would without hesitating.
I have my own kids, & I see the mother’s pain
when we’re in court. It’s like
I’m looking into my future,
like Mrs. Jenkins’ face
is a goddamn crystal ball
& all I see is my own son’s blood.
The case in front of the Honorable M. T. Mendez
in the circuit court of the 11th Judicial Circuit.
We’re here on several motions, Judge.
This neighborhood grew out of segregation.
We feel this is a weeding process.
Bullet holes in mailboxes, street signs & trees
& yes, judge, in people.
The State of Florida versus
the killers of Sherdavia Jenkins.
What if she was your baby?
They killed my baby, Judge!
They treated us like weeds. I-95
barreled through Overtown & obliterated it.
An atomic bomb might as well have been dropped.
That surely would have killed us faster. Cleaner.
Now the kids can’t ride their bikes or play
b-ball on the old black top, nor can they chase
the finest ice cream truck in Liberty City.
The cat who owns that joint now drives his wheels
to a safer, whiter place.
She was a quiet, well-mannered child.
She never hurt anyone.
When word of that interstate came down, we knew
big trouble would come with the wind to replace our peace.
Folks flooded Liberty Square from every direction.
The older cats from Overtown half-joked
that the whites who sped above us on the new overpass
never glanced down at us ants scurrying around.
Did I tell you she scored the highest marks
on her third-grade math?
The neighborhood went down and down. The pigs
always prowled. Things went bad the night
they used nightsticks & Kel-Lite flashlights to beat
Arthur MacDuffie down. They cracked his skull
like an Easter egg. His entire face was blood.
A Black man can’t ride a motorcycle in town?
That night the young cats hit the streets & screamed
I hate the fucking po-lice! Power to the…
Six months later an all-white jury
found the officers not guilty. Those Black cats
turned this city out. They torched Doc Yaeger’s
with Molotov cocktails. They said his stethoscope
Black smoke from burning buildings choked the sky.
I stood there scanning the street. Those flames glittered
on my skin. I felt like Prometheus. On 62nd street,
the bondsman’s shop lay charred like a dying star.
My children cry all night.
Miss Lion meows & paces
around our house.
The state alleged the petitioners,
Mr. LaRose & Mr. Darling,
engaged in a shootout
& accidentally killed a bystander.
She was a child minding her own business!
Cheryl Whitehead’s poems have appeared in Hotel Amerika, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mezzo Cammin, The Hopkins Review, Measure, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review and other journals. She has been a finalist for the New Letters and Morton Marr Poetry Prizes and the Unicorn Press First Book Award. She won an emerging artist grant from the Astraea Lesbian Action Foundation and gave a reading with other grant recipients at A Different Light Bookstore in New York City. Whitehead has also received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Quest Writers’ Conference, and the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Her chapbook, So Ghosts Might Stop Composing, was published in August, 2019.