Shamika and the Rental Voucher
After her sister overdosed, Shamika took in the boy,
five years old; she was the only family he had left,
but she couldn’t keep a kid where she lived,
against the rules. Could I help her get a bigger place?
It’s not natural, she said, to share a bed with my sister’s kid.
If you knew Shamika, nothing about her was natural,
not a mop of blonde ringlets framing her café-au-lait face,
glitter mascara, her body sculpted by a spandex mini,
pop orange low-cut top, and cork wedgies with ankle straps,
which added another four inches to her 5’10” frame.
Star-studded ruby nails so long I wondered how
she tied the kid’s laces or glossed her full, pouty lips.
Yes, you’d turn around and look, especially if you were
in the market for her talent, then again she might not
be your type, though she certainly didn’t look like anyone
who’d raise someone else’s kid. With theatrical aplomb,
she welled up, not sure what to do—put the boy in foster care
or move with him to a shelter—if I didn’t help her.
The next day she called and asked me to meet her
at 10th and Grove, where she climbed out of the back seat
of a black, stretch limousine with wire wheels,
and invited me to get in. Okay, I did, but that was between
Shamika and me. Squashed between her long bronzed legs
and a mute white guy in a green suit and cowboy boots,
I handed her a packet of papers to sign. Up front,
the boy bounced around working off a sugar high
from the M&Ms the chauffeur kept feeding him.
Coveted rental voucher in hand, Shamika gave me a hug,
her breasts firm beneath the sheer dress, a swirl of purple
that reeked of stale perfume and sex.
Several months later, Shamika appeared at the office,
unexpectedly gaunt, dark hair nappy, no makeup,
wearing a dirty t-shirt, faded shorts and flip-flops.
The authorities had taken the boy. I loved him…
already my son, she said. T-cell count…but I was so sure
I’d have more time…I’ve asked to be buried as Bernard.
Nancy Scott is the author, most recently, of Running Down Broken Cement: New and Selected Poems (Main Street Rag, 2014) and the managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. She was a social worker for the State of New Jersey for eighteen years assisting homeless families, abused children, and foster parents. Her poetry has been widely published in journals such as Witness, Mudfish, Slant, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Verse Wisconsin, Poet Lore and The Ledge. Learn more about Nancy and her work at www.nancyscott.net.
This poem appears in Running Down Broken Cement.