The Skin I’m In
 
My skin is brown with traces of crimson
given to me by my father who is mahogany
a beautiful smooth dark espresso kind of brown
…with hints of red
 
My father also has a deep rich commanding voice
that would let you know in the instant that you heard it
whether you were going to get a
         ride in the swing that he made with his hands
         or the direction in which to move to pick a switch
                 from the peach tree out back
 
My body is tall and ample
given to me by my father who is a pillar of strength
towering over most everyone in the crowd,
so that if I got lost all I had to do was…look up
 
My daddy…
intense and intimidating to those who cross him,
…like the man who tried to call him Billy…
‘cause see, by no means is my father Billy or Willie
that signified being a boy to him and my father…is a man
so his name, is just Bill.
 
Now it’s one thing to take after my father but entirely another
to look like my father when all I wanted to be
was one of those cute perky kind of girls that all the guys want to date in high school
or when I say hello have the other person on the phone line say
“oh excuse me sir, I was looking for Danielle”
…when all I wanted was to sound like syrup dripping out of the bottle
on an easy Sunday morning
     … sweet.

Or have men running scared because that sista’s too intense,
and women intimidated because her energy is so powerful
as if I could tone any of that down if I tried…
but that is not the skin I’m in.
 
And then one day while working on a play
I was asked to portray an African Queen of my choosing
I heard a name call out to me
an omniscient cry from the divine,
the sound of ancestors whispering the answers to my questions why…
like the resonance of a djembe playing lamba rhythms
I began to remember a warrior
 
Nzinga Mbande…Queen of the Ndongo and Matamba
kingdoms now known as Angola.
She had an interesting physique,
a blend of power, dignity & sensuality
and was rumored to have over fifty young men in her harem. 
 
A warrior because she lead a resistance against
the Portuguese for over forty years
with an army strengthened by runaway slaves
who knew that she would keep her people free from bondage…
…signing a peace treaty only after the Portuguese
brought reinforcements from Brazil
to aid the defeat of her army… 
…compassionate of heart, she couldn’t bear to see
her country war-torn & people tired.
 And on the day that the treaty was to be signed Queen Nzinga
arrived in full regalia worn solely by those of royalty. 
Noticing that there was only one chair in the room occupied by the king of Portugal,
and being a diva before the word existed she was not to be outdone.
She ordered one of the king’s servants to kneel and
sat upon him, pronouncing her arrival as true royalty
of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms.
…an outright refusal to pay tribute to the Portuguese king. 
 
We are cut from the same cloth
of women and men who
struggled and fought to stay alive
hoping one day they’d earn
the chance to die.
 
Cut from cloth woven with yarn
spun from discipline, determination and responsibility
from simple folk with one goal in mind…
     survive and pass on this legacy.
 
They say that to those that much is given
much is required…
 
This requirement dictates that
living and giving come from
uncomfortable spaces
personal places…
utilizing gifts given to me…to us
by the Most High
 
Going within to connect with individual creativity
putting into plain view the lessons that
your SoulsJourney has learned and taught
in its existence through eternity.
 
Overcoming judgment based on physical appearance
cause what does outer beauty have to do with anything
when I was brought here to write, to speak, to learn, to teach
…to conquer society’s ills through illumination and understanding…
what I give to you is me…my experiences.
Not good or bad, just experiences
that create the individual that stands here before you
slowly becoming comfortable shedding the clothing that hides my spirit
unabashedly reclaiming residence in Eden.
 
So understand that if I somehow refuse to diminish
my power, courage and intensity…for you,
know that it is in my infinite design,
and the skin that I’m in requires that I stand tall,
‘cause I am so much more
     …than a woman.
 
 
     –Danielle Drake-Burnette
 
(From CAST IRON LIFE: A Collection of Poems and Recipes.)