Tonya Maria Matthews



She is an algebra project with a haiku punchline.
Metaphysics is not a real science
but its mastery is the only thing
that keeps her from exploding all over you
like an atomic bomb
acid raining on your parade
fucking up your syllables

Been my best friend
for years
betrayed me more than once
so I feel no qualm
warning you

true. she has her moments

But you got to approach a sister that smooth
on a parabolic curve
and you, my friend, are a straight line
neither Pablo nor Pythagoras would approve

Been my best friend
for years
betrayed me more than once
so I feel no qualm
warning you

true. she has her moments

Patrick Ellis
detail of Sacrede Heart
covering reliquary at the center of the altar

But you got to approach a sister that smooth
on a parabolic curve
and you, my friend, are a straight line
neither Pablo nor Pythagoras would approve

Pinning her down is like
identifying missile silos in satellite photos of Iraq:
There is no science to it
and only poetry (or men who stand like poems)
will get UN votes in your favor
foolness will hang 'round your neck like gravity
as you are forced to feign ignorance
or arrogance
for the rest of your days
or get voted off the island for being a punk
sonnets sonnets everywhere
and ain't shit to write about

no, love is not a bitch, my friend
she is just a more complicated subject
than anything you could ever want
to study


& then he told me his real name
it melted off of his lips & dripped onto my tongue
he is so smooth
like 100% mango juice

under table the tip of his finger
presses the soft spot on my left knee
my toes curl
like flower petals in the flame

this is not what i asked for
dear God: didn’t i say
send me someone stupid & ugly
someone i can handle
roll my eyes at do that neck thing
put my good foot down get with the program
or get gone

not like him. if he’s gone
i’m lost

yo God:
did u send me a man with a plan
brother on a mission
cocoa butter baby on his j.o.b.
are u kidding me
what am i supposed to do with all that vision
eyes like his might see through me

once an ancient Ife goddess wanted lips like his
when he puts his mouth on me
i remember every kiss from every lifetime
like syrup dripping down nape of my soul

my God i know
we talked about this
decided i wasn’t ready
need to lose 10 pounds 3 ex-boyfriends
a few dreams that were never mine
nor good for me
& this suspicious attitude thing i picked up
the last time one of us forgot
we already had this conversation!
he is all water and building
i am all fire and revolution
what if i burn his face
tear down his foundation
when he already be so monumental

i cannot let this man make love to me
he brings too much rain
i dry as the dessert i was almost named for
would too happily drown

he is too smooth
like 100% mango juice
i melted on his tongue dripped off his lips
& then he told me his real name



your love is like
a Mayan mathematical equation
supposedly AMAZING
POWERFUL enough to predict eclipses
new planets
and my next question
but too self-absorbed to know
neither Spaniards nor my evil eye
bring good news

a calendar more accurate than Caesar’s
with comet crossings
harvest times and paydays
but no birthdays
or first dates
or anniversaries

all that knowledge
all those great cities and the Mayans
without warning
without trace. kind of like you
when there are dishes to be done
apologies to be made or rent to be paid

they reappeared, you know, ignorant
begging for their history
in small tech-less villages
reminds me of you reappearing
at 3 in the morning, ignorant
begging for forgiveness
in small pointless arguments

their greatest contribution to civilization
was ZERO.

you know these stories go
fool General turned from friend to foe
by pyramids and temples
masks and monuments
of gold
warriors downed defenses deflated
gate splayed, carcasses and innocents
the legend of pirates is born:
as gold turned to black in the conqueror’s hands
all who took that which only God can give
were cursed forever

wouldn’t that be nice.
got to work on my juju

that precious Mayan obsidian
glittering on pyramids and temples
masks and monuments
was never gold
and neither was your LOVE


freedom. freedom don’t cost a thing
but slaveholders make good money
people pay big bucks to see beautiful butterflies
trapped behind wire cages
feel no pity for the pretty purple monarch
with the pin through her heart

i prick my finger three times
black gold drips into the looking glass
they don’t pay what they used to for blood
but it’s all i’ve got left to sell
& if i don’t they will so
going once going twice… sold!
to the man in the back with the crooked black hat
promising to invest in my sons
the economy is failing but the stock market is saved
on the black backs buried beneath the prison industrial complex
the man in the back with the crooked black hat
is a man of his word
even with compensation for inflation
my first born fetches four times the price
of kunta kinte

freedom. freedom ain’t cost a thing
dreams burn a hole in my pocket
section eight finally moves to the county
only to find trees don’t burn like cities used to
the fire next time is now
too bad they charge an arm a leg & your baby girl’s virginity
for the matches

damn russell simmon’s marches
if hip-hop is soul killing music now
(i got to buy bootleg)
apocalypse is coming with the mad cow
(i been a struggling vegetarian for years
God knows weed is a vegetable)

i wonder when these folks get black enough
black like we
gonna march picket and protest for free?
i even blew my whole bank account on The Movement
steel-toed combat boots: $42.95
angela davis t-shirt: $19.98
bus ride to the revolution: $3.25
not being able to recognize the enemy when i got there:

to all my soldiers on a budget
they will give you all the good stuff for free
but anything worth having is worth paying for
start with me
buy a sistah a ring
sell me some vision
mortgage your isms for the house that will save our children
where daughters can sit pretty and unprostituted
on the balcony of our three-story rambler
telling tales longer than any white barbie doll having black girl
ever wanted her hair to be
we’ll paint all the walls blacker than me

we’ll set fire to anything at anytime

this is the only reason i don’t boycott february
love is the only sound investment
spend our inheritance wisely

Tonya Maria Matthews
, a.k.a. JaHipster, is a poet, scientist and hip-hop academic. Matthews has studied with Sonia Sanchez and appeared as JaHipster – her performance alter ego –with poetry legend Nikki Giovanni, underground hip hop icon Pharaoh Munche, and legendary singer-songwriter Ray Charles. Matthews’ latest collection of poetry is available in its second edition from Three Sisters Press, Still Swinging These Hips (2005). Matthews is a Maryland Center for the Book Honoree and her work is featured in the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (Baltimore, MD). She holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University (2005), and has begun using her scientific background to advance studies in the area of urban education in science and math.


Published in Volume 8, Number 2, Spring 2007.