A Call Home: “Black Girl, Call Home”

Jasmine Mans’s poetry book Black Girl, Call Home was published this past March. The poetry collection explores concepts of femininity, sexuality, race, police and gun violence, religion, and much more, through powerful storytelling and imagery.

Jasmin Mans is a Black and lesbian poet native to Newark, New Jersey. She recalls many of her childhood memories that informed her view of the world and of love. Yet, the book takes the reader/listener on a journey of unlearning many of what seemed like “facts” that hindered her from being her true self. 

The first 3 poems of Mans’s book are dedicated to hair; the taunting of her natural hair, the desire and beauty sought when her hair grows and she “won’t be bald-headed anymore,” the experience of the kitchen being repurposed as a salon. From the very start of the book, Mans’s starts with a scene too familiar to a Black daughter. The inability for many Black girls to find beauty in their natural hair stems from childhood insecurity, generational insecurities even, with racist roots. Mans starts this dialogue by describing the pain of becoming “beautiful,” when her hair would be done for school the night before. Recently on Twitter, a user replied to a tweet on “hair depression for Black women” by sharing about a “crying fit” they had in middle school when they couldn’t get their hair done early enough and had to go to school with their hair out without knowing how to style it (@butt_um_liam). Mans touched on this sharing experience, that in many ways is almost traumatic. And just as the conversation of natural hair starts the book, it also starts with the very first ideas of beauty for many Black women. 

Mans goes on to explore Black motherhood through religion, meals and growing ideas of femininity and sexuality. Mans introduces stories of Sunday cleaning and Easter dinners. She speaks of how meals were a display of affection, but how resourceful her mother was. Nothing went to waste. She spoke of the first periods, where mothers urged their daughters to hide the blood and pain. She spoke on the curiosity of not knowing her mother outside the context of motherhood, wondering who she was as a girl. She unearths arguments where she called her mother “a bitch,” explaining that even in the moments she didn’t act like she had a mother- she always would. In the poem “Blame,” Mans’ describes her mother’s broken heart through the actions of her father- the things he could and couldn’t control. She speaks of Black mothers and women who cling on to men who disrespect them- like Kanye, because they recognize they make men like him.

Mans’s exploration of Black motherhood seamlessly transitioned to the first conversations of sexuality. She describes that her mother had prepared her to be a man’s wife. In the poem, “Momma Said D*ke at the Kitchen Table,” Mans describes the scene of coming out to her mother and being greeted with “Oh, so you a d*ke now?” She explains a resentment that her mother displayed, yet quickly recognized the fear laced behind it. She says, “I don’t want another reason to be scared for you. Momma said, so you gonna be a d*ke now, as she meant to say ‘I’m scared for you.’” The multiple identities that Black queer women have makes it hard for them to fully move safely in this world. Mans’s reflects on this “additional” unsafety her sexuality exposes her to, and new fear her mother has. She also explores the questioning of very personal and intimate details ever since she came out as lesbain, all the questions on gender roles within a lesbian relationship.

Many of the poems are on love and heartbreak. Mans talks about her relationships with women, falling in love with stories and bodies. She speaks about falling in love with silent parts of someone else’s body, the intimacy in falling in love. She speaks of laughter, being held close and fantasizing a love forever with a woman- a love that can survive. She recognized parts of her relationships that were compromised due to “religious beliefs.” Yet, Mans speaks of praying to god about her girlfriends, about making it to heaven before to avoid heartbreak.  She writes of having to lie to maintain a relationship. And conflicts about people not being comfortable able to recognize the validity of their relationship. There were lost lovers, those that are too far gone to ever rekindle.

In the poem “Nerf Guns: Christmas 2019, Tulsa,” Mans spoke on gun violence. She reflected on how at 28 she played with her first Nerf gun, along with her nieces and nephews. This was banned in her home growing up, because the play was a little too close to reality. In a later poem, she describes a familiar memorial scene of teddy bears tied on fences and the nostalgia of missing family when young boys die. These stories humanize lives lost too early, the universal memorial that shouldn’t be so familiar. She speaks of the fear of having a Black son, being “caught in your skin.” She talks about the discomfort from the fear of knowing that the skin and body of Black sons could be the reason for losing one you love. There seems to be time on the existence of Black boys’ lives.

Throughout the poem, Mans sought to tell untold stories of unseen girls. She speaks of the killings of transgender women that are ignored, and then such ignorance that ignorant people try to justify through religion. She told stories of girls who were raped, the examination rooms, the fight for one’s body, the girls who were violated. She spoke of knowing stories of those you don’t personally know- that shared experience. Manns writes of victim blaming, and the dangers of it. She spoke the names of girls who went missing, a long list. She uncovered the history of exploited bodies for “medical purposes,” Black bodies stolen from their owners, and the story of bodies that were permitted to be toyed with.

Morgan Jerkins writes in a review, “This book is a haven for all the Black daughters out there, hoping to make sense of the power and powerlessness in their bodies, the connection to others’ bodies, and the moments of everyday life that comprise so much of our identities.” Jasmine Mans writes of a world so familiar to many Black girls. She tailored a book that retold life stories beyond her own. It made me feel seen, I heard stories and thoughts I didn’t think existed outside my life. If you need a new book to read, this is the one.

Featured art from Refinery.29.com

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