written by S. Shaw
Why does faith and salvation have to be based on pain and suffering?
The switch tree stood outside of its own calling as twig and leaf, was a master at providing suffering.
As a child, I was attracted to brightly lit miracles, my
Mother, berry bush small, filled with joy, not acting out her despair, not
coming towards her kids bringing suffering.
I am sure she learned how to whip from her mama and she hers, sure
The ancient art of the frustrated and hopeless flay
Was just her way of sharing her suffering
Never brown or dry, brittle enough to break once after cracking
Across bare legs. Always Strong to last thirty lashes, strong enough to offer suffering.
It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. She would say, would
only accept only the best in all we did; her fingers could read the history of a switch, know instantly if it was ripe and ready for handing out suffering.
At Christmas we laughed. There was no space for foolishness, every
heart held a bulb-filled holiday tree, grew an extra chamber to hold the pain, after all their Christ had already paid for our sins, so there was no need for our
The switch tree, more of an overgrown bush, thin stalks coming together for warmth, stood outside withering, waiting for us kids to attack it for its freshest and limber tools of suffering.
At 12 or 13 I grew quiet, eschewed acting out
for internal solitude, learned other ways beyond the switch, to attain my suffering.
I am sure her arms hurt after work, after pick up and clean, after back and forth swing, over hand, after cook, after living a life of suffering.
We could never fear her terrible moments, she was our goddess., our prayer at night. We knew our backs
Only ate up her fears but she didn’t know with each swing
She was feeding us also her suffering.
Forty years later, I still dance away from a flying switch, still get flayed, am still and always have been, the steward of my own sufferings.
S. Shaw studied creative writing as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University focusing in fiction, and has attended writing conferences in various African nations, as well as attending writer retreats in the states trying to find where his talents lie. His poems have been published in African American Review, Temenos Literary Journal, The Missing Slate, as well as a short story in Mighty Real: An Anthology of African American Same Gender Loving Writing. He is a Cave Canem writers fellow and the author of the chapbook The House of Men from Glass Lyre Press- 2019.