Of Late, I Have Been Thinking About Despair

TJ Jarrett

its ruthless syntax, and the ease with which it interjects
itself into our days. I thought how best to explain this—

this dark winter, but that wasn’t it, or beds unshared
but that isn’t exactly it either, until I remembered

Saturday afternoons spent with my father in the garage
and those broken cars one after another. At the time,

that’s what we could afford. Broken things. Saturdays,
there was always a game on the radio and I’d stand

beside him or lie under the engine, oil cascading from
the oilpan. Daddy would curse wildly, sometimes

about the car, sometimes about the game. Sometimes
Mama called for one or the other of us from upstairs and

I’d trudge up to see what she wanted with a sigh.
We sighed so much then. Funny. If you asked us

if we were happy, we’d say: Families. They are happy.
There’s a solace in broke-down cars: you can find what

is broken. You can make it whole again. I’d pop the hood,
peer into the sooty inside and Daddy would pass me parts

for my small hands to tender to each need. Daddy
scrambled into the front seat, turned a key and a roar

came out that would be cause for rejoicing. But time came,
(this is the inevitable part) when he would draw the white

handkerchief to his head in surrender. I would always ask
if we could've tried harder. Baby girl, he’d say. She’s gone.

More by TJ Jarrett

The Children

Sometimes I dream of a slave ship docking at port
& my grandmother has brought me here. She takes my hand
(in the dream I am very young) as we watch the children
disembark. The children are lithe & descend one after
another after another—squinting, lifting their hands to shield
their eyes from the burning light of this new country.
I ask her: But will they be loved? She rubs my head &
says: The lack of it isn’t the worst thing to happen
to them. Think of all the ways what is not love comes for us,
sometimes parading itself as obligation, or the violence
we bear & soon they won’t distinguish one from the other.
The hurt itself will be a kind of attention.
A boy hears
us talking & stares right back at me. He is black, blacker
than anyone I’d ever seen—iridescent, glowing with it.
I’m so moved that I dart between the guards toward him
& hold him in my arms & where I touch him, feathers
grow. The boy sprouts wings & lifts from the earth.
We are transfixed—me & grandmamma & children & the guards-
gazing upward. At first, he careens away, then back toward us
only to ascend, blacking out the sun until he climbs
high enough that he is swallowed by it altogether.

John Henry

If you believe what you hear, he was everywhere
from Virginia to Alabama just beyond every holler.

Which is to say he was everywhere and everywhere
he was, he was unwanted. In one story, they say it

happened because if a white man said it happened,
then it happened. In another, he was a prisoner which

is more plausible because only a man who lives in darkness
can be felled by the light. But if it happened that often,

there had to be more than one, or maybe it was everyone
or all of us and maybe he stood down there at the cold face

shoulders stooped and begged a mountain move
which we all have done some time or another. Maybe he

prayed for strength to move it as we do some time or
another. But this we can say is true: the world sent

a man down into the earth one day—the same world
who fixed his shackles, closed each door, the world

which said no, and no, and no like so many stones.
The world sent a man into the earth one day to leave

him. That man emerged from the earth with one word
that the earth had been holding, and in that moment

he broke the earth, stumbled out into the chilly air
before he fell, he brought this one word to us. Liar.