825: Hotter Than July

825: Hotter Than July

825: Hotter Than July


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Last week, sprinting behind a UPS truck after a missed package delivery, I stopped after about eighty yards. I coughed and caught my breath. The driver turned a corner and was off to their next home.

Meanwhile, my lungs burned a little fire behind my ribs, and my legs ached right to the bone. I longed for the speed and stamina of my youth, back when it seemed I could have trailed that truck for at least another twenty blocks and caught up with it, possessing boundless energy and strength. But still, and this is going to sound…counterintuitive, I love my aging body.

More than books and school learning, my body was how I came to know the world around me, through movement like dancing and playing sports. I treasure my body, the way Toni Morrison’s character Baby Sugg instructs in that famous scene in her novel Beloved. She urges the enslaved people to love their flesh, love their limbs, love their hands and their mouths because “Yonder they do not love . . . They despise it. They don't love your eyes.”

I love my aging body because it is a living record of my growth. It holds all the history of my feelings and perceptions. When I hear music and begin to unselfconsciously dance, that’s my body calibrating once again, tuning. Do I wish to return my body to its former state? Yes, I guess I do, which is why I bike and walk frequently, to bring me closer. But ultimately, I love my body against all the messages from outside that I should not. It’s the only body I have to love.

Today’s poem is brilliant for how it captures the spirit and inner life of a young woman. I feel the strength and ferocity of her being, as she sets out on this process of aging. Even more, as the father of a daughter, I treasure here what Maya Angelou called the “inner mystery,” that will serve as a force against all that attempts to diminish her light.

Hotter Than July
by DaMaris B. Hill

You sit on two clouds of bees, honey
storms in place of your hips. Your waist
is an underripe watermelon, a tense
and tight drum. You carry daisies for breasts,
with dandelion eyes. Summer is skipping
away. Every radio humming static. Electric
is July. Hotter than we remember, which
is why you pray for her return, carrying sweet
onions in the hot grease of your armpits, salt
and soda crackers in the creases of your neck.
July is the 7-Eleven of your childhood, fluorescent.
Your jelly sandals are neon. Your panties—
washboard and starch white, snapping
hand game rhythms with your belly
button. The driveway is your playground
littered with Christie dolls and cordless curlers.

In the attic, you play with your vanity. You
pretend it is a crib. You skip circles around
a stool, sit on the top of it, Blue Magic hair
goo on the back of wrists. You pick at a face
mirror. You blow on it to reveal the musings
of your mustache. You karate kick an ankle
into the air. Flash freeze. There. You tiptoe
balance between chipped toenail polish and
your need for October. Middle school is a
distant dinner guest. It is July and you are still
a girl. You wrestle back the pink folds of your
body, cuss God for holding the woman in you
for ransom. You beg for the blood. You want it,
rushing, shiny, thick and lush like your hair. Enough
to uppercut yourself in the tum. Blood enough
to inspire envy. You want it lava-hot and licorice-
sweet. You want the boys to tell you that you smell
like rusting quarters. Rumor has it that a girl’s
first blood is chocolate. You want it enough to chew
Big Red when chomping on Cocoa Puffs and Pop
Rocks. You want blood enough to make friends
with the witches among ordinary women. You run
relays to the store for these "hussies." They drink
ice-cold Pepsi without staining their laundry, always
hanging their rusty drawers dashed between the sheets.

“Hotter Than July” by DaMaris B. Hill from BREATH BETTER SPENT: LIVING BLACK GIRLHOOD, © 2022, DaMaris B. Hill. Used by permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.