unabashed

unabashed, she calls out to passerby

her friends sitting behind, holding cardboard boxes they’ve sharpie-d over

with the slogans so many of us

are greeting, today, with snark and suspicion and sneer:

 

#blacklivesmatter

#wewillnotbesilenced

#blackisbeautiful

#ilovemyblacknessandyours

 

their pit bull sits, restlessly, at the youngest girl’s side

straining at its leash

lurching forward toward my knee as I pass through

their tiny corner of resistance, existence

and pluck.

 

my market bag is bulging with the spoils of privilege:

organic heirloom tomatoes

fresh-cut peonies

eight-dollar cheese (purchased also, I saw as I stood sweating in line,

by a tired mother wrangling three babies

waving her EBT vouchers at the tattooed cheesemaker,

this tattooed cheesemaker who surely is among the blessed

even if we only know it because Monty Python

deliberately misheard the Savior’s gospel);

and the dog must want to get in a good a sniff.

 

I’ve spent the morning strolling through the streets

of this town where I live.

outside my door, it takes four blocks before I see

someone whose skin pales in comparison

like mine.

it takes four blocks, too, before I meet

someone who refuses to return

my standard, southern greeting:

Mornin’, y’all.

her skin is pale, too, and she also refuses

to look me in the eye.

another four-block first.

 

I live here, but only recently.

I live here, but only uneasily.

I live here, but I do not understand this place.

I am a young, ignorant, hipster gentrifier, I suppose,

luxuriating in the industrial charm of this old

textile factory building that has anchored a neighborhood

through decades of boom and bust,

white and black,

hustle and abandon.

this town is changing so quickly that no one seems to know

which way is up or which

way is down.

 

I do not know if living here is right or wrong,

responsible or reprehensible.

I do know

that every time I walk outside my building,

i am confronted with the reality

that my reality

is not my neighbors’.

 

for instance:

the thin, weighted woman who walks past

the electric-car charging station in the parking lot,

a different man trailing her at a safe distance each time

as she leads them through the hedge and toward

an abandoned lot in the next block

definitely isn’t buying herself any eight-dollar cheese,

EBT voucher or no.

 

and:

the aimless, wandering woman who purrs

and swoons at my dog every time we see her,

who wins a tail wag and a face lick for calling her

‘pup-pup’ and crooning with delight

certainly isn’t carrying home peonies to preen

in a Mason jar on her kitchen table.

I do not think she has a Mason jar to her name,

much less a table or,

lord have mercy, a kitchen.

 

but mostly, living here reveals the thing

that no one would teach me in decades of schooling,

that no one would admit to me in years of

being taught to tell the truth:

my skin may pale in comparison

but, because of the way

we’ve allowed our world to work,

my life matters more.

 

this is a thing so deeply twisted

that I can barely bear it.

and even this, even

my inability to bear its reality

is symptom and shibboleth of its truth.

 

I have never, will never, won’t ever be compelled

to stand on a street corner,

summon every ounce of god-given worth,

wave sharpie-d over cardboard boxes

and shout

to any and all passerby

in an attempt to make it so:

I AM HERE.

I MATTER.

STOP KILLING ME.

 

unabashed, she called out.

I thanked her, smiled at her friends,

bent my knee to give the dog a good whiff

of all that eight-dollar cheese,

and woke.

I walked home, pluck and pain and hope

echoing through the neighborhood.

wisdom cries aloud in the streets.

how long, o simple ones, will you wallow in ignorance?

WE ARE HERE.

WE MATTER.

STOP KILLING US.

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. Ken & Trisha Ferris · July 11

    Dana Beth, this is excellent. Worthy of publication & speaking to me, also a paleface. I wonder if this country is coming unraveled before our eyes. Of course, some unraveling would be a very good thing, but I’d like to see it happen without bullets.

    Trisha

    Like

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