Three Poems

Janay Kelley

“Before We Learned To Smell The Rain”

With clear, blue skies
My grandmother lifted her nose
And told us to prepare for rain

There was a tornado siren in her demand
for all her grandbabies to hurry inside
Since she is the only one who hears trouble in white clouds,
She spares us no explanation
Merely warned us, this storm will be a strong one

Never that the lightning will yank us from our innocence until we forget what it tastes like
That the thunder will sound just like our heartbeats failing to carry us to safety
That the rain tumbling down on our roofs will try to wash the sensibilities from our eyes

She neglected to tell us that
there will be no time for playing in
puddles when flood is coming.

When the gray clouds break to reveal the sun,
It will not shine the same shade of yellow
Nor will it beam on baby soft skin
Because once this storm is over,
You have become woman

“where we got our scars from”

Our storm doors silenced the wind
The grass bowed its head and the soil dusted our toes
We were mothers of this land,
we were sidewalk chalk and waterhose water
We were pennies on pavements, paying the Candylady
Bike chain staining the gravel, chasing after butterflies, and fireflies
Forget the streetlights, we staying outside
Under the stars, we hiding and seeking, and skidding our knees
These sidewalks got a piece of us,
seem like they want the whole thing
We jumping fences and sneaking in the neighbors’s yards
Climbing from trees to the roof

We are mothers of this land.
What’s gone stop us?

We are swimsuits and water balloons and water guns and sprinklers
The summer arrives right on time, for us
Us – we a sight that can’t be missed
Us – we sunkissed, real swift
Catch us if you can
We live in spite
Walk these cracks like it’s our birthright
Shadows and valleys and death be our neighbors
And they step outside to see us
Us – even the storm can’t miss us

And this rain ain’t nothing but porch awning,
Ain’t nothing but counting rainbow stripes
Ain’t nothing but splashing in these puddles,
Ain’t nothing but delay
We ain’t never gone change
We’ll outlive the seasons, outlast the rain, and we’ll be back outside
Again if we wait until it’s gone.

Our blood washed from the pavements,
From the grass, from the fences, from the trees
The birds sing our eulogies, and the grass prays for our homecoming,
and the soil buries us,
and the Candylady forgets about us, and our bikes collecting dust,
and the butterflies roam, and the fireflies roam,
and the streetlights flicker.

We were mothers of this land.
Now, we are daughters with
no homes.

“Regards to the Bleachers”

We don’t do no sitting when the horns start to play
When the percussion kicks in, we stand up
Feel down in our bones, bodies were made for dancing, made for music
Not in our blood to sit down and bob our heads to the beat

No! These feet got to stomp
These hands got to clap,
Got to let the world know this our song
We belong right here with our dance and our music
We sing along to “You better play that thing.”
To “That’s my friend.”
To “Girl, if you ‘on’t get up and dance.”

What are you acting shy for?
You around people – your people
Your people are celebrating, are rising
Your people be Saints, be Marching in and out the airways
Got resurrection and it ain’t even Sunday, yet we
Got our hands held high in a spiritual way
Connected our bodies together in a spiritual way
We dance in a spiritual way

And we scream, slam our hands together,
Click our tongues as the song ends
Thank the music for its time, and we wait to do it all again
When the horns start to play


The entrance gates and turnstiles to Melrose Stadium with trees and a blue cloudy sky in the background.
A view of the entrance to Melrose Stadium, a staple and cultural landmark, in Orange Mound, one of the first Black neighborhoods in America and the birthplace and home of my father and his family. Photo by Janay Kelley

Janay Kelley

MEMPHIS, TN

Janay Kelley is a nationally recognized literary and visual artist, focusing on themes such as intimacy, community, and spirituality through a Black Southern lens. Raised and based in Memphis, TN, her love for the written and spoken word as well as film has expanded into an extension of herself. Using prose and filmmaking as primary mediums, Kelley combines history, family anecdotes, and personal narratives to create meaningful artistic experiences that provides a connection between her work and the viewer. Currently, she attends Rhodes College, double-majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and Media Studies with a concentration in Media Productions.