Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


If You Tell It Backward

St Augustine, Fl, 1964 

no black person 
alive today can be 
found working 
at the Hilton. 
JT & Al went back 
& saw it had been 
reconstructed but still 
a graveyard. 
years before, 
the kids are all cuffed 
& dragged 
into the jailhouse, nude 
baring bathing suits, 
for a leap into segregation 
at a swimming 
pool. question: 
what degree 
is the burn 
when acid gets in 
the mouth, 
in the eye or 
on the body? 
the girls move 
from the edge 
where the manager, 
James Brock 
(that's his name) 
pours a bottle 
of muriatic acid 
into the water. 
he starts to lose 
(his temper, 
his mind, his job, 
his man power 
built on savagery). 
anyway, he gets angry, 
because the kids here are 
black & ain’t suppose to be 
in this pool 
escaping, splashing 
the burden of a southern 
June barking on their bodies, 
feverish in their youth, 
sugared in sweet sweat, 
never telling their parents 
they were heading 
to the pool 
for some fun 
to slope the spine. 
i can see now 
JT & ‘nem 
swelling, just sailing, 
swimming 
on a humid day where 
the summer swelters 
& heat from 
the sun glows 
the skin jet black.

Credit


Copyright © Porsha Olayiwola. Used with permission of the author.

Author


Porsha Olayiwola

Porsha Olayiwola is the author of the collection i shimmer sometimes, too (Button Poetry, 2019). An Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization, Olayiwola is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston. 

Date Published: 2021-01-26

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/if-you-tell-it-backward