Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 2
Allen M. Weber
I was so proud, Mama, to get that robe, to help
plant a cross with our county’s finest men.
They let me have two swigs of shine and load up
That boy knelt on a hard-swept floor
below a char-drawn likeness of Jesus.
In a rightful fury, his ma’am fought like three
big men; her sorrow bit like bile
into the roof of my mouth.
We dragged him to their bottle tree, and Mama,
those bottles made a sucking sound and poured out
colored moonlight at our feet. We staggered about
grinning like fear
as someone shot the barking dog, and cackled when another
tore down the damp unmentionables that snapped
on a single taut line.
As the rope was drawn around a limb, too near
a hollowed gourd with purple martin eggs,
I raised my hood to throw up supper on my boots,
then helped to paint a home with kerosene and fire.
Since then my children raised up children who play
with brown-skinned ones; and those who’d force it otherwise
are mostly hair and bones.
But the lowest branches caught the flames that night;
today the wounds still seep, and the heat-shocked
bottles dance and howl for reckoning.
Here, even animals stay wary: the deer won’t rut,
dogs won’t lift to pee, and till I too go on to Hell,
the martins won’t come again.
In the old-folks home I changed bed sheets for this white lady.
She was real old, but she liked me anyway. She’d tell ‘bout the days
she was young and the things she’d done. Said she wrote for a paper
back when most reporters were men. When she was ready to sleep,
she’d reach up to hold my face—her hands would always shake—
she’d pull me down to kiss my cheek. One night she said to me
something like “You know what little girl? I’m going to die this week.”
Well, I didn’t know what to say, felt like a fool standing there smiling
at her, too young to imagine anyone could plan for such a thing.
Can’t usually tell with black folk, till their breath comes fast and shallow.
But old white folks turn blue before they die, like their tired blood stops
flowing along with their will to be the last of their kind. It starts at their toes—
got about two weeks to live with blue toes. As the color flows up their feet
they’ve got a week, maybe less. When it’s to their knees that’s the day
they’ll pass away.
Next day when I got to her room she was lying down—I’d never seen her
do that in daylight. She hadn’t even pulled the covers back. Then I guess
she didn’t see the need to muss up the bed. She was all dressed up
except that she wasn’t wearing shoes. She didn’t speak. That was different,
she always spoke before. This time she just smiled as I came close enough
to see her feet were blue.
© Allen M. Weber