by Khadijah Queen
The copy of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On next to my bed has an explosion of pink post-it notes extending from its pages. And on each of those marked pages is a remark, an exclamation, a pause that lead to one thought. Black girlhood, black womanhood, is a dichotomy. We are all things and experience all things because of who we are.
In “My Best Friend From Junior High School Looks A Lot Like Djimon Honsou”, Queen writes I am tough enough to know what I can take & satisfied with keeping stars on the screen & out of my eyes my well used heart. This idea, of strength and vulnerability as dual threads of womanhood, is at the core of the collection. In each piece, the speaker is at some level of self-discovery or reflection. Whether she be standing on the cusp of something new, already hurtling through the air, or staring back up from whence she just came, each woman has sufficiently strengthened herself for change and softened herself for landing.
One of the things Queen does masterfully in the collection is using clothing as armor and language. One of the best examples comes in “The Beverly Center Food Court Is Also Where I Met Devante’s Brother From Jodeci.” In such a succinct piece, she is able to layer in thoughts about the sexual gaze upon women from both black and white men and elements of freedom via consumerism and economic power. The blue-red in a gold case & we both had on white jeans, along the mention of summer brings us back to our place, the United States of America, as a woman, as a consumer of things meant to make us more desirable, more palatable to the white gaze. The blatant stare at the speaker’s ass from a black man shows again the speaker’s supposed place in society. She is an object. Despite this, there are more powerful things at work in the piece. The speaker’s forgetting of the singer’s name, the economic freedom of saving and purchasing what she wants, and her decision to indulge in red lipstick all show control of who she is and what is important to her.
This gaze, this objectification, rears its head several times in pieces such as “When I Worked In Retail My Coworker Said Suge Knight Liked Her Hairy Legs” and “DJ Quik Was Really Nice.” This gaze turns red hot, painful, in “So When A Famous Poet Decides He Want To Call Me.” This piece, more than any other in the book, showcases just how fragile and strong black women are. Queen writes:
& a few months later he would push me into a hotel closet at a writing conference & grab my breasts so hard it hurt & saying I liked it until I screamed as loud as I could in his face when he wouldn’t stop & why couldn’t all this only be about name-dropping & brand names & puddintang ask me again I’ll tell you the same.
The reversion to girlhood in the final line in direct connection to the poet’s use of ingénue earlier in the piece, spells out powerfully that often times, no matter the power or positon a woman holds, she will always be tested.
The lessons in the collection are two-fold. Whether it be the rapper who is actually nice and respectful or the professional trying to connect via social media years after staring down your blouse, sometimes perception isn’t reality. It’s that duality again. It’s the multi-faceted nature of black womanhood. I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On shines in this respect.
Be it the image of a girl sitting on a sofa wearing a Prince t-shirt and reading Sula; a young lady excusing herself from a viewing of Gone With the Wind to read The Autobiography of Malcom X; a girl being told to live up to greatness of her name; or the final ringing image of the book, one of a child layering in petal after petal of a hand drawn rose, Khadijah Queen shows us that black women are made endless softness wrapped around a steel core.