OLD BOY & LIFE STORY {2 Personal History Poems about Racism in the American South}

I came from you.

OLD BOY & LIFE STORY                  {2 Personal History Poems about Racism in the American South}

Old Boy,

swallow your bullets

let the lead

sit in your belly

that weight like an anchor

holding a Bloated wood hull

Blood-swollen decks

right offshore, right offshore...

You old boys, with fat wagging tongues

and shotgun shells thumbs

your backroom meetings

dirty hands, salt of the earth

my ass, you chew bones and spit blood

caught up under your nails.

You old boys - - don’t think for a second

that I don’t know you.

I came from you.

Old Boy, don’t you burn no churches ’round here

don’t you burn no crosses

because I know who you are.

I came from you.

All the sheets in the world can’t hide the truth

of who you are.

I can see right through.

You’re pink and soft, trembling and damp.

You’re scared, Old Boy.

                                                                                            You’ve always been scared.

So, you just swallow those bullets that you’ve been saving up

in the name of your own daddy

in the name of your own greatgrands

and the slow death

of the world they taught you to believe in.

You just let that lead sit there in your belly

like the weight of everything you came from,

everything I came from.

Better yet, throw those bullets out into the river

with your own sad, ruined body

and listen to the sound you make

breaking the surface

setting all those old ghosts free.

To tell you her life story,

she’d crawl under that low table,

tuck into a ball,

duck walk crawl,

lay down flat-bellied

on the nubbed-out carpet

Smelling dirt and plastic,

the cold of the concrete in the floor seeps up.

She’d tell about watching

small hands fidget,

rising and falling from tabletop to chair

elbows pressed close to bodies

and feet hooked ‘round the legs of chairs,

scuffing, rolling toes.

Air too warm,

like sleeping breath.

Thick buzz of sound and light,

making tired,

voices, thin windows in the corner

green grass between buildings,

hard look of brick.

Nothing at home was made of brick

except the bottom part

of her great-grandmother’s house

and old fallen chimneys out in the woods,

from people that’d been there before,

after the other people who had been there.

You felt quiet

still and cool in the yellow white light

the cinder block room

eyelashes curled up silky and black

butterfly mouth, proboscis

a word you’d never heard, did not know

skin, the river bank

right hand was resting on the edge of the table

thumb feeling out the line from top to side,

the formic seam

some pages flat and silent

Adult voice

droning layer in the air

heavy over the room of round tables

Your hand drops to the edge of the chair,

under the table, into the shade

feel along the hard line

lean the body forward, hold to the cold

silvery leg

The hand began a crawling toward,

nervous animal, under the table

only a foot away

surprising how easy it is

for hands to find one another,

familiar clasp, palm across palm

fingerprints like the river we all grew up on

hot and dry, the dock railing in the summer sun, blanched

dark water in the undershade

same color as you.

There’s no way she could tell,

and no reason she’d need to,

because you felt it, too

the cold of that grasp,

adult hand like air conditioning

smooth and bloodless

the pulling the warm creatures curled together

up into the bright of the room above the table

lifting the holding hands like some dead thing,

some sad thing.

“You will not,”

voice from behind, from above,

before they knew what was happening,

hands still clasped together,

dumb and silent in the air,

because what can a child’s fingers speak,

“hold hands with,”

wrists encircled,

a swift outward pull, uncoupling the grasp

breaking the hold

set the hands firmly onto the table,

issue the declaration

that tells the story of who they are,

“little white girls.”

To tell you her life story,

she’d have to crawl down on the floor,

low down on her hands and knees,

and tell you that she knows:

                                                                                                     This isn’t her life story,

                                                                                                      in the way that it is yours.