On a Saturday morning in Palm Beach,
middle-aged poets read stanzas of grief.
Now I know it will always be too soon
for my mother to die. It will happen
too slow, if not sudden. She might forget
me first, might not see her own face in mine
anymore, might sniff chamomile teabags
and not remember the evening we sat
at the dining room table, her bible
open to its index, finger pacing
over thin pages to find the perfect
verse to help me understand that vengeance--
against boys who didn't call-- was the Lord's.
How we laughed, that day, at the wrath of God!
How we laughed, that day, at the wrath of God
blazing through the unbridled Idaho
sun that baked me into deeper darkness
but burned all the white girls red at church camp.
In days, their skin would simply peel and flake,
they'd molt into pretty bronze goddesses
with waves of blonde or brunette hair draping
their shoulders like Greek gowns. I watched the boys
stare at the exposed bellies of Christian
girls in contraband two-piece swimming suits,
their gaze snapped when counselors forced t-shirts
over the girls' heads. Giggling under chilled
sheets in bunk beds pushed against cabin walls,
we dealt boys' last names out like playing cards.
We dealt boys' last names out like playing cards,
but I faked a soft snore before my turn,
offered myself as a sleeping martyr
so negotiations on forest hike
companions and bonfire first kisses
could go on without consideration
of race. Soon the moon cut through the windows
in square beams, framing our budding bodies
in cells of light, caging us like the camp's
promise that we'd all be saved by summer's
end, readied for the Rapture, born again
and available for pickup at noon
in the lot; only one of us desperate
to return to mother's gentle darkness.
To return to mother's gentle darkness,
to watch it unfurl, then feel it engulf,
to be hugged by that welcoming shadow
woman on a dry August afternoon
just two weeks before the first day of school,
to nuzzle against her warm, black comfort,
to be locked in a multi-toned brown-skinned
swirl, sway to the synchronized lullaby
of your deep sighs, is to find home again
and believe that you won't have to leave it
for a cold schoolroom with vomit-colored
square tiles, where cute boys with mullets mutter
Communist when you enter the first time,
a mulatto girl laughs hardest, loudest.
A mulatto girl laughs hardest, loudest;
bunches her brow in quiet confusion
since they hadn't studied communism
in school yet. A yellow Polo sweater
gleams in the sun by the window, worn
by a girl whose relaxed black hair is slicked
back into one pristine pigtail. A smile
lifts her ebony cheeks, then she exhales,
expels a deep, welcoming, warming sigh
to her automatic new-found best friend.
At recess they'd label us Pepper Girls.
I'd lie to my little cousin, telling
him they chanted because we ran so fast,
saving him from knowing blackness mattered.
Saving him from knowing blackness mattered,
I whispered to Jimmy that I liked him
too. I sat in the desk right behind him
when he scrawled in his margins in fifth
grade alphabet/number code that he loved
me. The repeated shush of paper torn
by vigorous, pre-pubescent boy hands
in denial ripped through the silent
classroom like quick flashes of white lightening
striking us-- the unlucky, the exposed.
I saw Jimmy in the pool that summer
warning his cousins my black would come off.
You hoped so, Jimmy. I know I hoped so.
You hoped so, Jimmy. I know I hoped so
too. My body was tired of pushing
through the water's resistance. If I'd been
born a raindrop, I would have lost myself
upon impact with that deep, city pool;
I could have blended in and connected,
could have become unrecognizable
in its inseparable flow, survival
depending upon my ability
to diffuse. Or maybe I'd be soaked up
in a swimsuit; be folded, packed, and flown
to the coast; be worn again, and wrung out.
Maybe, still, some part of me would wash up
on a Saturday morning in Palm Beach.
A journal of narrative writing.