All in by Kateema Lee

by Kateema Lee

At sixty-six, my mother can’t retire. Most of her life

she saw risk as God’s blessing. Married over and over,

moved here, there, and back. Back in the day,

she was power, afro swag, wearing platform boots.

Today, she wears a uniform, helps “important people”

enter buildings. She complains she doesn’t have much.

I remind her she is rich in other ways. I’m not my mother.

My only risk is flying; I revel in that feeling after the fasten

seatbelt sign is off, the exhaling after unbuckling, the stretch

of legs, the sway of hips up and down the aisle, a freedom

fear strangles on land. Is it possible to feel blessed and broken?

Some of us hold onto safety like deeply planted roots hold onto soil.

My 80s-loving friend says high altitude makes hearts

strong like Rambo. To my friend, it makes sense to always be alert,

always protecting self. He understands the need to fortify during

peacetime, to prepare, to build a fortress. We build forts

around each other sometimes, send Morse code distress signals

at “first blood.” Most times, we exchange pleasantries,

then disappear. In another life, we would’ve been lovers

planting landmines for anyone unlucky enough to find


our refuge. But risk? At sea-level loneliness is an anchor.

My mother never hesitates to “put God to the test.”

Some of us are trees trying to retire trunk heavy.


Kateema Lee is a Washington D.C. native. Her recent work has been published in print and online journals such as Beltway Poetry Quarterly, African American Review, Gargoyle, Baltimore Review, and others. Her new chapbook, Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer, is forthcoming. She is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, a Callaloo fellow, and a participant of The Home School and Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.