Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Cynthia Parker-Ohene





greyhound bus station 1950

the gift shop’s salesclerk
wore the scent of virginia
on her feet
she walked hard

like farmhands do but she
was beginning to understand
northern habituals

going to beauty shops
buying greens at foodbarn
dropping her ah rahs

but jim crow wouldn’t leave her alone
he kept showing up when she
tried on sassy chartreuse hats
with 9 inch feathers bowed around
the brim (for wednesday five o’clock service
at enon baptist)

lucky brown cosmetics
reddish savoy pumps at florine’s
the may company’s policy did not allow
grease stains on the merchandise
so she stepped over to sapphire’s brims
we crown colored heads


at the station she left the change for white
customers on the counter black skin leaches
yet her pride was in the display:
travels with white aunts
see new york city on a dollar a day



but she knew her station
arrived here at 19 to attend a colored
school for colored women


the stationmaster felt a colored salesclerk
would better serve their customers as
as a domestic in the back like her ride
up south



In Virginia 

In Virginia’s room

Her own

Peruvian lilies light her desk

With carefully placed pens

Bought with her own words

The groovings in the desk waxed by

Pearline who at noon serves Earl Grey

In a pink apron carrying pink teacups

Laced with lemon on its pungent lip

Delicate woman-sized treats for swooning

Pearline moves to the door to bring in the silk road porcelain tub

Camphor, salts and tints-of-violet to balm Virginia’s tuckered feet

Unbend the curvature of Virginia’s back the enamored covetous prose

In Virginia’s own

Pearlie she calls bring my notebooks and more tea

Pearline walks hard into the kitchen to draw the fires prepare domesticity

For the writer who needs a room of her own to subordinate her muse

Her maid who labors for Miss Virginia’s ownness, her roominess

Virginia says the room frees her from the tyranny of man

Her men, planters and industrialists

Pearline is asked to stay late to prepare refreshments for her writer friends

To collect their wet coats and dry them by the hearth

And pleasantly waitress their personalities

Pearline agreeable prepares the table embosses it with fairies

and musing mermaids tapered flickering

Nights when Pearline walks to her bus stop fresh from clanking silver goblets of drink

She has never tasted goes to the butcher for the leftover shanks of meat closest to

The guts of its porcine body for her own family’s stewed victuals

At home she draws the fire for her children’s nightly bath

Washes clothes for school on the morrow, braids their hair

After all and sundry has been cared for she walks to the pallet she shares

And thinks of Virginia’s ownness the ownness that she

Pearline keeps pristine from the tyranny of mistress Virginia’s men



                                                        the hierarchy of humanity

                                                                 we rotate
                                        luminous on the muddy rubes
                                         bright beside the dreamscape
                                             a free so violet against the
                                             intended fog i am sensuous
                                            before the auction while the
                                           crowd watched on jubilee we
                                           are humming against this land
                                                the birth is hard all arid
                                            within the skin of restraints i
                                                  violate and redden the
                                                          hierarchy of


Photograph of Cynthia Parker-Ohene by Briana Ohene.

Cynthia Parker-Ohene is a three-time Pushcart nominee, abolitionist, cultural worker, and therapist. She is an MFA graduate in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, and the Chester Aaron Scholar for Excellence in Creative Writing. She is a winner of the San Francisco Foundation/Nomadic Press Poetry Prize. Her recent work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Kweli, Green Mountains Review, and West Branch, among others. She has received fellowships and support from Tin House, Callaloo, the Postgraduate Vermont College of Fine Arts, Juniper, and the Hurston-Wright Foundation and elsewhere, as well as work in the anthologies, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. Her book, Daughters of Harriet, is forthcoming from The Center for Literary Publishing/Colorado State University Press in March, 2022. More from this author →