Two Poems by Arriel Vinson

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

they didn’t dance

we danced in the middle of the street that summer. we kicked up our feet and threw our arms toward blue skies, smiles plastered on our faces. we knew no better feeling.

then, our small feet got big. our laughs too loud. our skin too brown. our joy too much. they told us we could keep our joy, but only quietly. only inside. 

we did. our mothers yelled to keep it down, so we begged them to go out. and they said no. not right now. we didn’t know our mothers were trying to save us.

we didn’t know that our dancing and flowing and feeling upset others. but we wore our mothers down until they said go on outside then. and we danced. thought things were normal again. 

then fall came. so did new management. we didn’t know yet what our mothers knew—that they wanted all of us – and all of our joy – gone. that rent was low and then it wasn’t. that our mothers could only do so much. 
come winter, we left. we moved away from the place that we’d etched our beings in. the streets we’d left our footprints on. the only freedom we’d ever known.

they changed the neighborhood that winter. it was quiet. it wasn’t brown. they didn’t dance. and we didn’t either. our dancing never lasted for long. 


The Neighborhood Association Director Asked If I Lived in The Neighborhood

at the Halloween party & I wanted to let out a blood-curdling yell but it would have went unheard underneath the children’s screams & she would have thought I was an angry black woman so instead I bit my tongue until it bled then told her I went to the local private college & then she felt more comfortable with my blackness I saw it in the way her shoulders fell & she finally showed some teeth in that smile but really she was ready to rip my skin to shreds with her fangs because my blackness had a hint of privilege she thought I didn’t deserve & I ached to tear her apart with my fingers hold her limbs in my hands but instead she offered me cupcakes that were as rich as the neighborhood so I ate one & chewed up her microaggression to spit at her feet but swallowed instead & she talked about all the parties they have but she & I knew I didn’t belong amongst suburban utopias & pumpkin-decorating contests but I belonged if it was to them & finally she stopped talking because there was only so much to be said about Halloween & I stayed until another person let the same question fall off their tongue as if their mouth couldn’t hold its weight any longer & that time I left because I couldn’t stand being around neighbors who hire brown people but are surprised when we are living breathing & being in the neighborhood is a lot like suffocating what I mean is I can’t breathe the same here & I claw for air but white hands are always wrapped around my neck like rope & I can only be so free before they’re ready to pick me up by my head & let me dangle from one of their manicured trees.  

Photo of Arriel Vinson

Photo of Arriel Vinson

Arriel Vinson is an Indiana native who writes about being young, black, and in search of freedom. She is an MFA Fiction candidate at Sarah Lawrence College and received a B.A. in Journalism from Indiana University. Her poetry has been published in [PANK] Magazine and also won third place prize in LUMINA Journal, judged by Donika Kelly. Her fiction has been featured in Lunch Ticket. She has had essays/articles published in Blavity, HuffPost, and elsewhere.