JP Howard

Ghazal for Sugar Hill Secrets or Lullaby for Harlem

Mama’s lover was a secret,
wrapped around decades of bittersweet dreams

When sleep visits, I mimic Mama, 
escort secret lovers into my dreams

I think we are all, always dying here,
these bodies buried under dreams

Grandma Pearl lived-in with rich white folks on Sutton Place,
scrubbed their dirty clothes, while folding up her dreams 

Weekends brought Grandma back to Harlem,
her pot liquor so exquisite, it lives on in my dreams

Sugar Hill stories still run through these veins,
summer stoops hold old men’s shattered dreams 

Mama strutted across runways in her heyday, proud to be the first black model 
in Harlem who couldn’t pass for white, not even in folk’s dreams 

When she strolled up St. Nicholas, with her high yella baby in tow,
neighbors cooed, Look at that good hair, ain’t she a dream?

Mama hid behind an exquisite mask, on a ledge of black joy, 
then swallowed bottles of pills; nearly crushed both our dreams 

Alone, at night, I’m just a scared little girl screaming, Please Mama wake up!
while EMT’s who found Mama’s pulse, still haunt my dreams

Sugar Hill, she be smooth like Ella’s jazz notes, 
belting Dream a Little Dream for Me

One Sunday morning, church elders on Lenox Ave whispered 
Ain’t she the Pastor’s child?  as they washed away my dreams

Yes, I am that light-skinned fractured flashback,
Mama’s love child, snapshot of her wildest dream

Still, in silence of night, I hear her whisper,
Juliet, baby, you were Mama’s best dream. 

JP Howard’s debut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR, was a 2016 Lambda Literary finalist. She is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*). JP was a 2017 Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist and is featured in the 2017 Lesbian Poet Trading Card Series from Headmistress Press. She was the recipient of a 2016 Lambda Literary Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, VONA, Lambda, Astraea and Brooklyn Arts Council. JP curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a NY-based forum offering women writers a monthly venue to collaborate and is an Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review online. JP’s poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine, and The Best American Poetry Blog. JP holds a BA from Barnard College and an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths