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The Poetry Plot Thickens

By Janise Johnson, Virginia State University

Photo 82322765 © Sergii Gnatiuk |

There you go again, just like before

Sitting on your thrown of doing for others

But never allowing the light to shine on you

You give the people what they need

But you never stopped to figure out what you deserve

You left out “you” in this equation of happiness

These words, these words, still echoing in my head. My dad loved poetry, and he loved to create poetry on the fly. But this one was different. He wrote it, typed it up, and sent it to me in a birthday card. 

Daddy and I had a love /hate relationship. I hated how he was so irresponsible. I loved his creativity and his swagger.  

Dad, Pops, Father, Daddy. Who was this man who never wanted me but, in the end, wanted me to forgive him?

I used to see him standing on that street corner downtown, spewing words of poetry like a drug dealer dealing crack. He was trying to earn money. Lord knows that man never wanted to work. He never wanted to pay child support. Thank God we had great grandparents who supported us emotionally and financially. Daddy never wanted to do anything except things he thought were important. So, he produced nine kids, but he raised none. 

Side note: I am known to get off-topic and just start on my random thoughts. My closest friends accept me for that. I got that from him. 

So, dear old Daddy sent me a safe deposit key, a poem, a necklace, a bracelet, and a pair of Jordan-1s a few days before my 25th birthday. Ironically, that is the same day he died on the corner while reciting one of his poems.

 He only started sending me things in the last few years of his life. I was the only one that checked on him randomly. Some days, I would sit on the corner with him while he held his poetry readings. Part of me did so out of pity. But the other part of me wanted to know my father. Sitting with him was the only way I knew how to do that. The rest of my siblings did not give a fuck, and nor could you make them. 

Kris was embarrassed and ashamed of Daddy. Kris would call sometimes and say, “Ash, do you know what this nigga was doing on that corner today? Talking about, I love my kids, but my kids don’t love me. I could have punched that nigga in the throat and stuffed that microphone into his mouth!”

I knew Kris was angry and would spend the next hour reliving our childhood drama. He would always say he had a bad memory of the house in Spanaway, Washington, that we lived in before Mama left. However, he could never remember the exact details of what happened. 

He hated Daddy, and he let everyone know about it. One day, as Daddy was standing in the rain reciting one of his poems, Kris hit the gas. Then he rolled down the window and yelled to Daddy, “You ole bitch ass nigga! Do something!” 

I am not going to lie; imagining that shit Kris did was funny as fuck. I find humor in everything, especially when it is part of my pain. 

Daddy would always be on the corner, dressed in a three-piece suit. He would have on Gators or Florsheim shoes. He had a pinky ring, his wedding ring on one hand, and a diamond knuckle ring on the other. Someone said my father spit out words that touched the souls of all those in the hood who were hurting or felt abandoned. Eventually, everyone just called him “Spit.” 

Now, back to the poem and the birthday gifts. 

The necklace and bracelet belonged to my grandmother. It was sentimental more than anything else. I planned to have the poem framed and hang it in my home office. The safe deposit key was the surprise of the gifts, of course. I did not have a clue what bank it was from. I only knew Daddy to live in our hometown, Detroit. While in the military, he was stationed in Germany and Washington State. 

I pulled Kris aside at the funeral and told him what Daddy sent me.” You know what’s weird, that nigga called me,” as his eye filled with tears. Kris never called him dad. “Ash, he told me he was sorry and regretted not being a decent father to me. I had been waiting to hear those words for years.” 

Unfortunately, the rest of our siblings did not get the phone call. Kris and I were the oldest, and Daddy was married to our mom before she abandoned us. Our other brothers and sisters all had different mothers.

Kris helped me check in the city for possible locations of the safe deposit box. We had no luck. We then decided to fly out to Washington State to check. The first place we checked was the Backer Base Federal Credit Union. Bingo! 

Kris immediately started pacing as I pulled the drawer out and began to open it. I didn’t understand his anxiety, but I did not want to get into that conversation at that moment. 

When I opened the box, it contained Daddy’s dog tags, his life insurance policy, $100,000, a microphone made of gold, a letter, and a poem called “This is my last.” Looking at the money, Kris exclaimed, “This nigga held out on us the whole time.”

I did not want to argue with Kris or hear his shit right now. I know he was processing the apology, the death, the trip, and the safe deposit box contents. Although Kris was a very successful businessman, he battled depression and anxiety. Last year, he finally agreed to therapy. 

Daddy’s will was a letter. I opened his letter and read it out loud to Kris as we continued to stand in the bank vault. 


And you too Kris,

I guess I have written my final poem if you are reading this. And I went straight to hell with supersonic speed. 

I hope Kris is with you because you will need to lean on each other more. First, the material things. You guys can split the cash, life insurance, and other stuff in the box however you want. The microphone came from a poetry contest I won while stationed in Germany near France.

Fuck, I’m gone, and you need to live, do as you wish. 

Anyway, I loved you all, but I know I was a horrible father, husband, son, etc. I didn’t start that way. But like my momma would say, “Hell is a road paved with the failures of the good things you intended to do.” 

My words flow from my mind to paper unabashed

As my soul of sin is delivered to God

For this poem is my last

I lied and lied

 I always wanted to be your daddy sweet Ash,

And Kris,

Your mom didn’t disappear like the morning mist

She was taken from you as a child

Anger led my hands to remove her from your life

But she was never a good wife 

Wooh child, I know this must be hard

This is my confession

And I know this mess is wild

She hid the money

While I was struggling to provide

She hid the land inheritance

Ain’t that some shit to hide?

Ash, I don’t regret her murder

Kris, I buried her on Backer Base

She sits at the bottom of Mt. Rainier

12 miles past the back gate

12 kilometers to the left

6 feet into the cluster of four trees

She comfortable in the shade

Lovingly placed between trees 2 and 3

Bury her properly,

Is all I ask

Kris, I waited for you to say

What you saw and what you witnessed

But you kept it to yourself

So, I kept my distance

Maybe you never figured it out?

Those nightmares you had

Were tied to that murderous night!

This is my good-bye

My last hoorah

Process this or don’t

In hell is where I lie

Since Spit died and we buried my mom, I’ve learned that closure can come in various forms. We don’t get to choose how or when it comes to us. I also learned that the person initiating closure doesn’t care how the person on the other end of it receives it, nor the mental toll it takes on the receiver. The deliverer of closure just wants to relieve his guilt, pain, and shame. 

I’ve had to stop Kris from killing himself twice since the news about Mom. He feels guilty for not saving her that night, and for not remembering what happened all these years. 

About the Author

Janise Johnson, Virginia State University 

Janise Johnson is a senior transfer student and Creative Writing major and Virginia State University. She is an Army veteran, a mother, a grandmother, and a retired federal employee. She is also a business owner and has written the first edition of her monthly newsletter, “The Black Veteran.”

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