That time my grandmother dragged me through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up by my arm, hissing, "Stand up," through clenched teeth, her eyes bright as a dog's cornered in the light. She said it over and over, as if she were Jesus, and I were dead. She had been solid as a tree, a fur around her neck, a light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked on swirling marble and passed through brass openings—in 1945. There was not even a black elevator operator at Saks. The saleswoman had brought velvet leggings to lace me in, and cooed, as if in service of all grandmothers. My grandmother had smiled, but not hungrily, not like my mother who hated them, but wanted to please, and they had smiled back, as if they were wearing wooden collars. When my legs gave out, my grandmother dragged me up and held me like God holds saints by the roots of the hair. I begged her to believe I couldn't help it. Stumbling, her face white with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing away from those eyes that saw through her clothes, under her skin, all the way down to the transparent genes confessing.
Elegy for my husband
Bruce Derricotte, June 22, 1928 - June 21, 2011
What was there is no longer there: Not the blood running its wires of flame through the whole length Not the memories, the texts written in the language of the flat hills No, not the memories, the porch swing and the father crying The genteel and elegant aunt bleeding out on the highway (Too black for the white ambulance to pick up) Who had sent back lacquered plates from China Who had given away her best ivory comb that one time she was angry Not the muscles, the ones the white girls longed to touch But must not (for your mother warned You would be lynched in that all-white Ohio town you grew up in) Not that same town where you were the only, the one good black boy All that is gone Not the muscles running, the baseball flying into your mitt Not the hand that laid itself over my heart and saved me Not the eyes that held the long gold tunnel I believed in Not the restrained hand in love and in anger Not the holding back Not the taut holding