Jasmine Mans' 'Serena' Is the Definitive Ode to the Tennis Great

Jasmine Mans
·3 mins read
Photo credit: GLYN KIRK - Getty Images
Photo credit: GLYN KIRK - Getty Images

From ELLE

Poet and artist Jasmine Mans will release her second collection of poetry, Black Girl, Call Home, on March 9, 2021. In an ELLE.com exclusive, she shares the first look at the collection with 'Serena,' her ode to the tennis great, and the book's cover. Below, Mans shares her inspiration for the poem in her own words.

We watch Serena so intently because she is, exactly, what is so magical about Black women, not simply during the U. S. Open, but at all times. She pivots and triumphs, and pivots and fights. She dances in a sport that, sometimes, would much rather take her humility over her talent. She takes up space, both in metaphor and in matter. Onlookers watch her courageousness and suck their teeth at such mastery, because the Black girl isn’t supposed to master anything, especially not her own body or a tennis court. Her talent has become the blueprint, ushering so many brown girls onto the court, and into places they weren’t supposed to fit in. My forthcoming book of poetry, Black Girl, Call Home explores women: Black women who surrendered only to their own brilliance—women who hold a vulnerability that makes young girls feel possible. Real. This is a small part of why we give Serena Williams her flowers now, because she made a “home” in a sport that never wanted her to get too comfortable.

Serena

They will ask you to run,
and when you become the fastest
they will fear your lightning,
how it cracks ceilings and breaks
ground. They will place rules on your
body, say it’s a distraction from
their game,
as if they know better than you
how your bones should wear your own body,
how you should dress up in your own skin.
They don’t know why your hair
needs extra bobby pins, or how you got the
biggest booty in tennis,
something about Compton and collard greens. They will
not be graceful with your body,
but you will always have to be.
When they put you against
your own sister,
she’ll sharpen you.
Passersby will attack your
character,
Serena smashes racket,
point penalty,
violation,
how will she ever come back from this one,
she is too aggressive,
she has gone too far with her
clothing, how can Serena possibly regroup
from this, fight back,
women do not yell, women do not take
their shirts off, Serena loses the match and is fined
$17,000,+
we cannot allow her to get too out of control.
Women are not allowed real emotion
in tennis,
in the street,
in the office,
In their skin.

Serena lean in
more power, use more power,
backhand,
back!
Backhand, Serena!
More More follow through!!
Take the net, Serena,
Be tuff,
be tuff.

Act like you want to win.
Forward!
Forward!
Back,
Back,
Back,

You got this Serena,
net,
net

net, Serena,
yes!
Power, Serena,
play to win!!
what does it feel like
to prepare your body for the
US Open,
Australian Open,
to be cut open.
And to still give them grace,
even when they call you names,
even when they paint your face,
you give them grace.
Without fear, doubt, or discomfort,
what else is there to overcome?

You’re sport
Not spectacle
Woman before
Competitor
When they walk
You fly
When they grunt,
you roar.

You are a fire
catching its breath.
You embrace failure,
never run from it.
We’ve already
watched you defy
gravity
but today,
today, you will become it.

From Black Girl, Call Home published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Jasmine Mans.

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