What Life, What Stone?
Born to Carolina sand
and red clay leaning pines
playing within view of sun-burnt
fields, I saw the niggered sons
of slaves in leaning dog trots
watched them play no better than
when their parents lived in chains
sharecropped photos proved
a universe too shrunk-down
poor for borders though
their overseers drew them neat
their masters’ clinging pride
and tarnished virtue silvered over
miserly continuing a conflict
generations gone–gone and
sacrificed, half a country ruined, half buried shallow graves,
deceased before they fell
were they the fortunate
their descendants left with
nothing but fool stories?
And gaunt serfs hanging
lips on Four Roses by the curb
watching white knights ride
lords in Caddies cruising by
low rise Chevys kissing cousins
their pale ladies in pastels
playing on their backsides
with Dulcinea’s lack of grace
giving out for glory’s sake
to party with the genteel men
yellow sweaters only
–hound dogs caged and lonely
with the rising of the moon.
The soil was diseased
by more than just the cotton
that they bagged.
Next door to mine
Red Russell’s family was shelling
butter beans for freezing, even boys
as yet too young for hunting guns
would shell a bowl or two before
banging out the screen door
on the way to pick-up baseball
scaling fish across a back porch board
dumping tea grinds on hydrangeas
so they bloom real purple
maybe pocket change apart
no different from the Coloreds
seeing we all lived the same
beneath a yellow sky.
Presuming such an ancestry
might embrace a sod-caste son
a Pennsylvania mining orphan proves
the point about the good don’s windmill
such an idler yet determined,
what stone could hold such hope?
Born in Sumter, county seat
no great place though most folk
knew it fine, swamp-side hard by
Wateree–best lay a string
the way inside else spend a good
while getting out–the town
was named for one war’s patriot
still seething from a next war’s hate
two hours from the harbor
where those poor Yankees
took their whipping, four years
later burned for payback. After when
their darker kin no longer kept
from picking cotton balls again
it seemed like gravity had settled
much the poorer, but the lazy
ochre streams still flowed
the same way time goes by.
My sister Susan nursed the night shift
deliveries at Tuomey where
Doctors Bowman were half brothers
one white and one was black
the one who was her favorite, both
to their father’s credit, philanderer
or no, he’d paid for med school.
Skin tone didn’t stop the stud
though he only married white.
Clipped-wing birds in Swan Lake
gliding through black water
a colored gardener’s vision amid lilies
long necked irises like beauties
dressed up nice in May
smiling blondes in bouffant
shapes, wide dresses, breasts
like bumpers with certifying escorts
lean and hungry like their coon dogs
so young and unprepared
posing by the cypress knees
azaleas banks where all-white humble
even Irish Catholic exiles
might celebrate come spring.
Nights in aural distances
laden in the wavy heat
seventeen and catching
Fort Wayne AM on transistor
I just heard the news today.
What stands out besides the waiting
was high school integration, Vietnam
so confused those teenage years
if college would yet make a work
from fantasies, innately seeing
three from sketching two.
Comparing that to Ryan’s time
in Burke outside imperial DC
where limos limned the streets, being
born into an aggregated culture
what revelations did he take
from this new world order?
The Pentagon’s junior officers
encamped in Burke were renting
rising lifestyles–way cheaper
than McLean and thus his brother’s
Boy Scouts became bivouac fools
for certain–Ryan went on most
the sleeting cold the biting ones
sleeping fine with body heat
between his brother and his father.
Strange, my two sons’ lineage
unlike my own cleaved closer
to Carolina low country.
Hard pan clay, reentrant
corner of a high rise dorm
with no shelter from the wind
no wider than the breath it takes
to stroll a cypress garden
raise a boy child let him go–
I think about that raw red earth
unloved muddy cut-through
scant beauty laid in shadows.
I have an emailed photograph
a clutch of flowers placed unknown
a kind distraction from the truth.
See what one can do with stone
carve lanterns for a yellow light
build walls like Hadrian
to hold the nightmares off
construct a house impregnable
to freezing, hike
a ridgeline face for visions
stacking cairns to mark the route
carve a headstone at the peak.