“I Don’t Know How Many Fights I’ve Been In, But I’ve Only Lost One”

A bullied kid reinvents herself as a brawler, and then a poet

Illustration: Austin MacDonald

A lot of my writing is centered around the idea of survival: how I learned to survive in my body as a fat black queer woman. When I was younger, I learned to use my mouth as often as I used my fists, and both were used often.

My humor, my ability to talk shit about anyone, especially myself, was usually my first line of defense. And, if that didn’t work, there was always a baseball bat or a screwdriver.

I don’t know how many fights I’ve been in, but I do know that I haven’t lost one since the first one. When I was six, I got jumped. My mom sat me down and asked how I felt, told me I’d have to learn to swing or speak. I promised myself that I would never feel that helpless again, in any situation.

These poems are my fight song, literally and figuratively. Everything I have ever done, right or wrong, good or bad, is what has kept me here, alive and still writing. In the words of Miss Sofia in The Color Purple: “All my life I’ve had to fight.” And I don’t plan on stopping.

Pink Crayon

on the first day of first grade at a new school. a girl
punches me in the stomach while her older brother holds
me for allegedly stealing a pink crayon. at home my
mother asks how it felt. asks me if i ever want to feel that
way again. tells me to hit back. teaches me to not be a

in fourth grade a girl twice my size informs me we’re going
to be fighting after school tomorrow. i replace all the
books in my bag with bricks. that same year a boy lifts up
my skirt and i uncrochet a braid from my head and choke
him outside the office.

in fifth grade i dull a girl’s face on
the asphalt months before cps changes all the
neighborhood parks to foam. sixth through eighth grade
my tongue is now as sharp as the screwdriver i keep in my
locker so folks don’t challenge me. freshman year i sparta a girl
down half a flight of stairs, call her back up just to
kick her back down. i am all dagger mouth and bloody fist.
and i never ask questions later.

sophomore through junior
year everyone at school understands i am in fact not the
one. on the block i drag a golf club with latin queens’
names etched into the head. at some point i crack three
different hockey sticks over three different boys’ heads. i
see a person die for the first time. my only thought after is,
better him than me.

my first year of college i begin
collecting swords. i keep switchblades in my pocket until
the desire to cut becomes stronger than a need for

Quarter-Life Crisis

girl you been done had that. you was still in barrettes
and trainin bras. hoping ya first kiss ain’t taste like doritos
and mountain dew. still not allowed to hear ya big mama
tell stories about your mama. still sittin at the small table
on thanksgivin. still gotta be in befo’e the streetlights
come on. still in kitten heels and dolla sto’e makeup. still
tryin to find your likeness in a disney princess with a
daddy. still askin permission to use the bathroom. still thinkin
you’d have your life together by 25. who told you Black
folks lived to 25? giiiiirl, you ain’t know…you a star.
a light that’s been dead since the moment we saw you.

Fight Mantra

Be the last one standing
Fight small and dirty.
There needs to be Blood
that isn’t yours.
Your fists quick
Brick the right temple
Golf club the knee.
Your fists a cacophony
of bone.
The streets drum
the melody.
You have to,
There will be
in your mouth,
parts of him living
under your nails.

Magic In Three Parts (Or, How to Get Away With Murder)

i. The Pledge

I stood there.
War about my fingertips.
Didn’t move until he
edged toward fresh Nikes.
Mama would’ve noticed
that stain. She knows
what someone else’s body looks like
on fresh kicks.

ii. The Turn

I do not know if he was Disciple or Lord.
I do know men are easily magicked into flowers.
Presto: That night he met our God.
I would search the Tribune for his face.
to see if our notoriety would live
in ink.
What dramatic clever title would be gifted to us.
Every great magician needs a memorable name.
All we wanted was to be masters,
from our masters.

iii. The Prestige

We were amateur hour. Smoke
and Mirror tricks.
The real show was four blocks away,
On the block.
An entire family would disappear.
No one would ask questions.
We knew the Magicians Code:
Everyone is easily replaced.
Apprentices are left by fathers everyday.
Black boys know
disappearing acts.

The Truth
Any morning, waking up
is magic.

Before They Can Use It Against You

imma lego-body ass bitch.
square head round peg ass bitch.
no torso, t-rex arms, whole body legs but still 5’2” ass
bitch. grown with baby teeth ass bitch.
my ass fat but my neck fatter looking ass bitch.
keep my nails long cause my hair won’t grow ass bitch.
don’t know the words lip-syncing on snapchat ass bitch.
can’t see but always watching from the sidelines ass bitch.
got jokes but no friends ass bitch.
call it depression but i’m just being lazy ass bitch.
got seven names but don’t answer to any of em ass bitch.
say she queer but can’t eat pussy ass bitch.

Britteney Black Rose Kapri is a Chicago writer & teaching artist. Her book Black Queer Hoe just released with Haymarket Books fall of 2018.

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