Margaret Walker’s “Kissie Lee” mainly seems to highlight the adventures —“likker”-drinking, knife-jabbing, gun-shooting—of its renegade protagonist. Her “vengeance is mine” attitude fuels her classic bad woman ways. That same attitude also makes Kissie quite scary.
Lurking beneath the surface of the central character’s militant persona lies a merciless attitude gifted to Kissie by Grammaw Mamie. “Whin I was a gal wasn’t no soul,” the grandmother boasts, “could do me wrong an’ still stay whole.” The elder urges her granddaughter to be no man’s doormat but instead seek retaliation against her offenders. Kissie begins to do just that, becoming the “Meanest mama you ever seen.”
Kissie’s vengeful mindset spurs her to go “thoo life jus’ raisin’ san’,” especially in the poem’s sole bar brawl. The rebel’s memory of past pain sparks her to watch and wait until the perfect time to strike a man that “done her dirt long time ago.” As “he was making for the outside door,” Kissie served instant revenge with the pull of a trigger, thus unexpectedly forcing offenders to make amends.
Kissie continues to retaliate without notice since “Not a word she spoke but she switched her blade.” Their fear of her wrath makes “Evvy livin' guy got out of her way / Because Kissie Lee was drawin' her pay.” Such unyielding and unpredictable retribution feeds the townsmen terror.
Anyone bold enough to counter this renegade woman following her attitude makeover receives a swift and often physically-threatening blow of vengeance. Kissie Lee’s take no prisoners attitude not only makes her bad but also one scary black woman.
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Cindy Lyles is a program coordinator and contributing writer for Black Studies @ SIUE.