A White Neighbor Says I Owe Her

a civil conversation. Not even my landlord, a neighbor
who lives in the triple-decker. She says she can smell me

every time I open my door. I’m hard to approach. She prefers
to discuss things with my partner who is reasonable, polite,

White. She’s never had a problem with anyone. My trauma asks,
what’s wrong with me? Raised differently, she guesses aloud.

Faulknerian, my impression fills a room in her. We, she says,
are oil and water. I wonder which one she intends me to be?

She clutches her chest and coughs.
My essential oils leak into the wood in her hallway.

I wear dabs of lavender on my wrists to smell myself calm
on two buses, two trains, back and forth, every day.

She called the police on neighbors for parking.
Have you ever seen a Black woman ask to be left alone?

Sometimes, it’s not an ask, it’s a dare. Sometimes, it fights for air.
Not my first time. Not the worst. How many ways in a day?

Coming home, trying to get into the door, put my shit down.
I was fifteen when a cop ordered me onto the curb

in front of my house in Kansas City. The neighbors closed their blinds
like I’d never lived next door. Even if I told her this,

she’d probably ask, What does this have to do with me?
My mama laughed at the absurdity of white folks

when they hurt her too much. That’s what happens next.
When she says she wants to keep the peace, it’s a joke that cuts me open,

so I laugh. Throw my purse at her feet. Tampons and lipstick
scatter in a hallway she keeps saying is hers.

My untidy spills into her apartment. My serrated voice invites her
to see her reflection in my teeth. I know I abandon safety

when I unknot this part of me taught to obey.
They find reasons to shoot us either way.