Friday, July 2, 2021

sIX FINGERs a love story

Poetry from Sheryl Bize-Boutte

Published on 07/01/2021 by Synchronized Chaos International Magazine




 a love story


 He was born with six fingers 

 on each hand

 scalpel applied in a secret room

 Precision clean cut no trace

 Only a few knew 

  Cautioned not to reproduce

 He was fine with that

 A captain of industry

 A hellion

 A brute

 An unrepentant supply of evil

 A success

 Five remaining fingers

 On each hand

  Vice grips on all there was to have

 They named him man of the year

 In his private garden

 Of forever green grass

 And the blue eye sky

 He prospered



 She was born with six fingers 

 on each hand

 They tied them off with dirty string 

 let them fall back into origin

 Scars of protruding keloid

 Are even darker than her total gold

 Everyone knew

 Everyone whispered

 She was a hellion

 A brute

 An unrepentant supply of evil

 A bad mother

 A failed woman

 They named her witch

 Assigned designations without power to change

 Five remaining fingers on each hand

 barley clinging 

 to that thirsty branch

 Of the diseased tree

 She struggled



 They came upon each other one day.  It was a chance meeting, another arrangement of the universe.  After all, their worlds were separated, divergent, inequivalent yet equally actual.


 She was weary yet determined, walking slowly, the sidewalk seeming to grab at her steps as if to stop her progress.  This was nothing new.  Everything in life seemed to do that to her.  Yet she continued.


 He was on the same sidewalk, head in the air, walking briskly.  Too briskly to notice the woman he was heading toward. 


 And then they collided.  He was beyond angry that she had interfered with his forward progress. No one had ever done that before. No one. He instinctively pushed her to the ground.  That was his nature.


 She knew she had to protect herself.  She knew immediately she was on her own. If she had to fight, that was what she would do.  He would not be the first she had to battle. He would not be the last she would best.


 She lay there looking up at him, one of her hands shielding her eyes from his blue glare.


 And that is when he saw the scar on her hand.


 He immediately knew what it was and what it meant.


 He reached down to help her up.


 She wondered why and did not trust.


 Jarring clarity took him to his knees.


 He took her hand and ran his fingers across the scar.


 She embraced the bond of blue sky and golden sun.


 They knew their real names.


 Holding hands and rising together to their feet,


 Now beyond circumstance


 Strength and Hope walked on.


 copyright ©2021 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte


Tuesday, June 15, 2021




From Storyboard to Narrative

with Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Saturday, July 17, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

This event is presented in partnership with the San Francisco Writers Conference

It will take place via Zoom. Please register via Eventbrite and the Zoom credentials will be sent to you a few days before the class starts.


MI MEMBERS: $15.00

PUBLIC: $25.00

In this workshop, author Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte will guide you from storyboard creation to story narrative.  You will become familiar with the process of storyboarding, how it helps and guides the writer, how Sheryl uses her own unique storyboarding techniques to create narrative for her writing projects, and a fun storyboarding exercise for class participants.  


Pushcart Prize nominee Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte is an Oakland multidisciplinary writer whose autobiographical and fictional short story collections, along with her lyrical and stunning poetry, artfully succeed in getting across deeper meanings about the politics of race and economics without breaking out of the narrative.  Her writing has been variously described as "rich in vivid imagery," "incredible," and "great contributions to literature." Her first novel, Betrayal on the Bayou, was published in June 2020 and a poetry collection she has written with her daughter Dr. Angela M. Boutte, titled No Poetry No Peace, was published in August 2020.  She is also a popular literary reader, presenter, storyteller, curator, and emcee for local events.

For each class, we reserve the right to cancel at any time and issue a full refund. If you are unable to attend your class, please email at least 10 days prior to the class to receive a full refund. All fees must be paid at the time of registration.

MI Members $15
Public $25

Register now ›

 QUESTIONS? Contact Taryn Edwards,

Thursday, June 10, 2021



As we approach Juneteenth 2021 our thoughts may turn to wondering what it was really like during that time in 1865.  Certainly, we know from history, both written and spoken, that it was not all about the celebrations we engage in today. As always, other things were in play even back then.  The story I present to you today is a true depiction of those times, passed down by my husband and his family.  

Mama Dunn, is about the other stuff going on at the time and how a young teenager’s picture tells a story that continues to inform, rile, resonate, anger, and inspire today, in so many, many ways.


Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Copyright © 2021 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

As teenagers in the 1970’s, my then future husband and I often spent time with each other’s families. We thrived on bar-b-que’s with live music, extended family birthday celebrations, wonderful holiday dinners, car trips, and plenty of impromptu visits that turned into full-blown parties. It was during one of his family’s epic card playing parties that I first saw the photograph.

A bit grainy and slightly creased, the sepia toned image was still clear enough to see the two people standing in the foreground of a lush grassy pasture somewhere in Louisiana. Although the exact year and place had long been lost to family memory, the images seemed to jump off the yellowed scalloped edged 3X5 photo paper of the day.

On the left of the picture stood a thin, brown-skinned girl who looked to be about thirteen or fourteen. Her hair was styled into two loosely braided shoulder length pigtails, her arms pinned uncomfortably at her sides as she focused on the camera lens. The stare she gave was drained of affect, hauntingly unreadable. Although it was not possible to discern what her feelings may have been at that moment, the lack of expression on her young smooth face revealed that she had already been through the unimaginable. Even more than a century later, the forces inside her core being traversed the faux tranquility of that photograph to send the lasting message to anyone who would ever see it, that until that point in her life, or one very close to it, she was, or had been, a slave.

Standing on the right side of the photograph was a very tall, achingly thin bearded White man.  His body was slightly turned toward her, and his left hand was outstretched as he posed while in the process of handing something to her. In the photograph, one could barely still make out the faded sunlight glinting off the of the shiny object he held.  It turned out to be a twenty-dollar gold piece. A reward or acknowledgement of some sort from him to this young Black girl.  Even through the haze and creases of the old photograph, he was immediately recognizable.

The young, brown-skinned girl in the photo would become my husband’s great-grandmother and would be known to him as Mama Dunn. 

The thin White man in the photograph was Abraham Lincoln, then President of the United States.

But how did this photo and unlikely meeting come to pass? It may have been that Abraham Lincoln was doing public relations and photo ops in between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and his tragic assassination in 1865.  With the freeing of the slaves, the institution of slavery and its forced labor was shattered.  By the end of the Civil War in 1865, 620,000 soldiers had perished and much of the Southern U.S. was in shambles.  Damage estimates of physical destruction alone hovered around $1.5 billion.  With almost 2% of the U.S. population killed in the Civil War, more than any other war in U.S. history, there was a dire need for workers to meet the challenges of Reconstruction and to maintain the U.S. economy.  There may have been many reasons for this type of visit by the President, but I suspect that it had to do less with freeing the slaves, and more with efforts to end the war while motivating former slaves to stay, join the Union Army to increase the Union’s forces, and help rebuild the country.  

Although most slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which specifically excluded most slave-holding states, Mama Dunn may have been living in one of the Louisiana parishes that were included. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation states in part,

“Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.” /1

 It was not until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that all slaves were freed.  So in between all of that, with the country still at war, in economic peril, and the unfathomable human loss, Lincoln knew he had work to do.

My suspicions about the Lincoln “photo op” are further buoyed by the rest of the story from that picture day.  After the photo was taken, and there may have been others, Lincoln did indeed hand the young Mama Dunn the gold piece. But as soon as the photo session ended, he asked her to give the coin back.  As family lore tells it, someone in the crowd that day shouted, “Let the little gal keep it!” and an embarrassed Lincoln did just that.

Mama Dunn held on to that twenty-dollar gold piece, and the story of her meeting with Lincoln became a major part of family history with the valuable artifact serving as demonstration of fact. By the time my husband came into this world, Mama Dunn had reached 100 years of age and was living with extended family in Oakland.  

He became aware of her early on.  Even as a toddler, as Mama Dunn sat back in her dark green chenille covered chair, he sat at her feet on the matching ottoman and listened to every word she had to say. He listened to her hum. He kept watch when she dozed off. As he grew older, she talked to him a bit more, but never about slavery or hardship. She talked to him about how to solve the problems of life as well as how to celebrate the pleasures and victories. The Lincoln photograph would sometimes appear along with the chance to hold the treasured twenty-dollar gold piece. She was and remains his earliest and most influential life force. He loved her to the moon and back.

Mama Dunn passed away when my husband was in the third grade.  

She was 108 years old.

Still living in Oakland at the time of her death in the mid-1950’s, she was buried in a local cemetery where a flat square of stone bears her name and relevant dates, but still fails to mark her magical existence.

She is there to this day. 

In what used to be the Black section.

/1 National Archives Transcript of the Proclamation dated January 1, 1863

Monday, May 3, 2021


Just in Time for Mother's Day

Join me and Kate Farrell on the radio
this Thursday, May 6th
Storytelling in Black and White, “Aspire with Osha”

We will be telling stories from our childhoods in the South.

KSVY 91.3 FM, Sonoma Valley Community Radio:

The show will air Thursday, May 6th, 3 – 4 PM, PDT.

LIVE STREAMING from the KSVY website. (NOT Zoom)
About Us - KSVY 91.3 FM

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


On Sunday, April 18, I was the featured reader at the Elk Grove Writers and Artists Spring Event.

Led by the wonderful author, teacher and publisher Gini Grossenbacher, they are a group of talented writers, dancers, poets and more.

I read from Betrayal on the Bayou and from my first book A Dollar Five, after which I was treated to readings by this gifted crew.

Today I received this lovely coffee cup as thank you gift from them.


Yes, they are.


Thursday, April 15, 2021


Heather’s Bookshelf: 

Author Interview 


Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Book Title:  Betrayal on the Bayou

Released:  6/19/20

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Interview by Heather L. Barksdale

What inspired you to write “Betrayal on the Bayou”?

Bize-Boutte: Embedded within my active imagination and actual Louisiana family history, this book had been rolling around in my head for about ten years before the frame and the heart of it all came to me at once and I sat down to write it. In my original concept, it was a sweeping biographical family tale, but after a while I knew I would never have enough factual information to fill in the blanks. Too much was being hidden and withheld by certain family members who will never come forward. It was then that I decided to write a novel.

When you encounter writer’s block, what do you do to break yourself out of it?

Bize-Boutte: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I embrace the ideas of “waiting for the muse” and “imagination at rest” when I am not writing, which is not often. I have learned the literary value of letting things simmer before they are written as well as writing them as soon as they reveal themselves. Both have equal power and neither state should deter the writer.

Are there any tips that you would like to share with other aspiring authors?  

Bize-Boutte:  Yes, this is from a poem of mine currently in progress that I plan to use in teaching writing classes:


Write it for you

Write it for me

Write it for them

Write so they see

Write your wishes

Write your truth

Write your encore

Write your youth

Write your real

Write your imagine

Write your fears

Write your passion


Write what you see

Write what you thought

Write who you are

Write what you brought

Write when it wakes you

Write when it shakes you

Then read out loud those words 

To set them all free

And add your voice

To this life symphony

Copyright©2021 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Is there anything that you want readers to know about you, your writing process, or your book? 

Bize-Boutte: Well, I have been writing since I was gifted a Smith Corona typewriter by my parents at age twelve.  Although I did not write much during my thirty-one-year career in government, I never stopped conjuring stories, so when I retired, I began to “empty out” all of those stories, thoughts, poems and whatever else was in “my there.”  But guess what, “my there” magically refills all the time! 

As you can see from above, I also use words unconventionally, especially in my poetry.  I tell people to not be afraid to do that if it is a part of their voice.   

In my writing process, I generally get the entire concept of a book, poem or short story in my head all at once and I am able at that point to write the beginning, middle and end. In the case of Betrayal on the Bayou, it was almost fully formed as I set down to write it. Then I use my own brand of “storyboarding” to fill in any blanks, provide details and assure continuity. I do not write to word count.  I do not write filler.  I just write what comes and what makes me want to know what my characters will do next and what makes me want to turn the page to find out. When I feel I have done that, I then believe I have something to share with others. 

In Betrayal on the Bayou, I describe the insidious, permanent damage caused by colorism, racism and betrayal in a fictional Louisiana town in the nineteenth century, sometimes in literal, shocking ways. 

If "Betrayal on the Bayou" were adapted into a movie, who would you like to see cast to play your lead characters?  

Bize-Boutte:  This is quite the interesting question because I have been asked this by people who have read Betrayal on the Bayou, and yes, I have thought about it.  So here goes:                             

Emile: Chris Pine

Clotilde: Margot Robbie

Margot: Journee Smollett

Marie: Adele

Vanessa: Natalie Dormer

Francisco: Esai Morales

What is your favorite book, genre, and/or author?

Bize-Boutte:   I am a big fan of Walter Mosley and Stephen King for their sharp character development and storytelling. Two of my bedrock authors are James Baldwin and Barbara Neely: Baldwin for his fearless truth and Neely for her depiction of the complex Black woman. My “go to” poets are Niki Giovanni and my late sister, Patsy Bize who could “rhyme on a dime.” And I love James Grisham’s page turning crime and the late Sue Grafton and her wonderful crime solver Kinsey Milhone.

What are you working on next?

Bize-Boutte: I am always writing poetry so I may have another book of poetry coming up at some point. As for the next novel…I have two ideas “simmering” including a possible sequel to Betrayal on the Bayou, or something else entirely. 

The muse will bring it soon.

Learn More About the Author and Betrayal on the Bayou Here: