The Mechanical Cotton Picker

for Black Chicago poets

It wasn’t that they killed John Boy
          in front of his mama’s small blue house,
and that no one called her Ms. Bluebird anymore

out of respect, though she never minded the name,
it made her believe she’d fly off some day,  
or that the sheriff let John Boy’s body sit
until even the babies stopped crying,
their eyes filled with him,
his body already going to marble
no one would be able to lift from their sleep.
It was that we could feed ourselves then
by getting down on our hands and knees to pick cotton,
and most knew what a body smelled like
blowing down a dirt road.

When Chicago reached my ear the war was full of bodies.
They sent whole train cars for us black folk.
I read the Defender and waited to hide my face
behind the curtains of a northbound train
and I prayed the train car would fly.
The south truly doesn’t want us to go.

A Mississippi cop would catch a family disappearing
behind a rainstorm and send them home,
the clouds leaving four muddy fields at a time.
I left like a season’s first lover across a window,

slowly like a southern sun
diagonal on a work-back.
I wanted to carry my aunts to Chicago with me
like this obituary-filled Bible,
these plums I got saved, purpling in my bag.

Copyright © 2020 Tyree Daye. From Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press (