One With Others [It was hotter then]
It was hotter then. It was darker. No sir, it was whiter. Just pick up a paper. You would never suspect 66% of the population was invisible. You would never even suspect any of its people were nonwhite until an elusive Negro was arrested in Chicago or the schedule for the annual Negro Fair was published or a popular Negro social studies teacher was fired for an insubordinate letter to the superintendent and a spontaneous rebellion sprang up in a Negro classroom in the form of flying chairs and raggedy books and a pop bottle thrown at a light fixture, and then, the lists of long long suffered degradations backed up and overflowed: Parades without permits/ Boycotted stores Funeral home turned into a Freedom Center Kids arrested en masse and put in a swimming pool V died during Operation Enduring Freedom A bottle a day, she got annihilated/ Two packs a day Always preoccupied with last things/ Always a touch eschatological Always took a little tabula rasa with her caffeine When I asked the neighbor if she knew the woman who lived there in 1969/ Oh yes she said/ She knew her She didn't trust me and I didn't trust her I don't blame her though/ Everything was so confusing/ She stayed to herself She was overwhelmed/ That poor woman... She was right/ We were wrong VINDICATION They've got souls/ Just like you and me INTERPOSITION AND NULLIFICATION The marchers are approaching the town of Hazen where not so long ago an earth scraper turned up a mastodon skull and a tusk on the military road In Big Tree: People are turning in Only sure thing were the prices: Grown-ups know the cost of a head of lettuce, a fryer, a package of thighs; a $500 bag of seed covers about 5 acres; it takes 20 square feet of cotton for a medium-size blouse; where nothing is planted, nothing much grows. The dirt is hard-packed. The trees were gone by the first war. The first to go, the most marvelous one, the red cypress, made beautiful instruments. The fields, not gone, but empty. Cotton turned to soybeans. Mussels from the river turned to salvage. Fishing for tires on the silted-up water. Some are left digging an old bur out of their foot. Some go up/ Some go down [Big Tree church sign] A race-free conversation hard to have back then. Back then, the hotdog wagon doubled as a brothel. Come again. DEAR ABBY, I am 11 years old but I know all the facts of life because I live in a dirty neighborhood. My problem is that in our family we get pregnate quick. My sister got pregnate when she was 16 just by sitting next to a boy in church. Can this be? DEAR YOUNG MISS, No, somebody must have moved. +++ People study the dingy chenille clouds for a sign. People did what they have done. A town, a time, and a woman who lived there. And left undone what they ought not to have did.
From One With Others by C. D. Wright. Copyright © 2011 by C. D. Wright. Published by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.