Oak Park Mutters Statistics

A website stutters numbers
about my town sheepishly
pushing them all the way
to the bottom

The percentage of residents living in poverty—8.5%
Then the parentheses:
(6% for white residents)
(9.6% for Hispanic residents)
(14.3% for Black residents)

I wonder why it is only the poverty statistic
that mentions race
Then I remember everything is about money
That in this cushy suburb racial bias loves to glare
back at you from the inside of a wallet

In this chunk of non-city
the people are proud
of their diversity
Even as the achievement
gap at my high school
glares at them

Back when the Chicago Tribune covered
the 1919 Chicago riots
they were overshadowed
by the streetcar strike which
inconvenienced white
people who had to find
other ways to get to work
I bet no Oak Park wife
looked toward the lake
and saw Black bodies

I wonder how many of their
children have done anything
other than cast problems under bottom lips
letting injustice sit with stale breath
Their “hate has no home here” lawn signs
resting in freshly trimmed grass
I can feel them eyeing me
questioning if I belong here
as I walk past

I think about pulling all the signs out
Telling my neighbors to learn their own statistics
Will they see me in parentheses?

A part of me hopes they don‘t
Is this why I straighten my hair
for every school picture?
So for those few minutes before class,
a teacher may see me as something
other than Latina
Is Oak Park the cut lawn
and the sign planted in it
or white women
standing proud behind their liberal yard signs?

Where does it fit in a world that would rather focus
on anything but the problems across the street?

I just hope that when Oak Park makes its choice
it will say it without muttering

Copyright © Kyla Pereles. This poem originally appeared in Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School (Penguin, 2022). Used with permission of the author.