He looks low first, rallying tiny branches into
a flipped wicker cradle to form the crown
jewel of deep forest carpentry that renders
beavers jealous. Each twig, scarcely a human
pinky. The bird, a little girl’s teacup. Smaller
than a fist yet persistent in his truest pursuit.
He scans the brush next. Piles of berries form
beside feathery pink petals, a tempting sight
for a fickle passerby. Dude plans to get noticed.
Picks his spot just right: a break in the canopy
where each morning the sun will rub its shine
into a glowing jag of quartz.
He examines his work from all angles, standing
on branches for perspective. When it comes
to finding a nice ladybird, he trusts that small
touches add up. If this isn’t his year, at least
he’s pulled his corner of earth into a beauty
worth remembering. Next year he’ll try again,
because half the battle is just showing up.
The scientist names this
a mating ritual.
Why not call it love?
In the time
in a photo
After Dominique Christina’s “For Emmett Till”
In the painting you are stone-faced.
Young lady integration martyr carrying
ruler and schoolbook. Defiant six-year old strut past
a cracked-open tomato intended for your head
and the n-word in black graffiti, intended for your soul.
Flanked by four US Marshals you walk courageous,
like you don’t even need them. Because this is the day
New Orleans changes. Segregation changes.
Today you take White America to school
with all the grace and class my people wish you didn’t have.
Ms. Henry is a Boston cosmopolitan;
the first white teacher you’d ever met
and the only one who’d share her classroom.
It is 1960 and segregation walks a slow limp.
Each day you pray your way to school to keep
from hearing the shrieks of bigots and ignorants.
At night you and Ms. Henry dream of multicolored classrooms
and the kind of America that doesn’t murder its Kings or Kennedys.
Hope is a jazzy tune you dance to.
It is 2011 when you walk into the New Orleans charter school where I teach.
We gather 600 children in the gymnasium,
four white faces among them.
I wonder then how your backbone stands so up,
how your limbs don’t shrink into beginnings.
How you don’t appear six again,
stone-faced and uncertain,
ready to back out of a trauma
that promised but did not deliver.
My gender will never make
warfare of my wardrobe.
My race can see a TV without
boxing itself in its pixels.
My sexual preference doesn’t prompt
a dozen well-meaning questions.
My family’s money will arrive
to me liquid and intact.
My identity can’t ever render me
the kind of brave
that rattles ancestors.
So I listen to you, friend,
for the rumble
in your step.
May your courage
be the ballast
against the winds
of stubborn comfort.
She gathers the words
you need to hear,
pools mercy in her lips
to bless you with.
It won’t lift
all your weight
but it’s enough
to help you
arch your spine
Sadie and Irving play bridge in the basement
with two friends whose names are lost to history.
Sadie makes a careless error, then Irving makes
a reckless one: Sadie! How could you be so stupid!
The room tilts. Silence is a thousand elephants in parachutes.
Irving’s face fades red to white as he looks at his wife.
Irving, she speaks, steady as rain, I can’t believe you’d
call me stupid over a card game. I’ll never play with you again.
My great-grandmother carries this promise to her grave,
a pearled heirloom of womanhood not forgotten by her brood.