Sunday, August 19, 2012


You are worth dying my hands black.
Just as I dug my heels into the sand as the creek rushed by,
willing myself not to be swept away and to listen with every gram of my being
-to feel the word feathers-
I will dig my light fingers into your black hair,
tinting it deeper, to match your height and bearing on horseback.
You laugh and ask if I want to be black- because it would be a step down-
and I laugh and say why not- because at least I wouldn't feel like an alien.
I am spectating pain.
The girls strip to their shorts and lay in the water to listen.
I gingerly step into the sand.
(I have just started to bathe in the river)
You sit, with your huge breasts tipping down toward the washing board
as you pour water of ashes over the ripped clothes,
scrubbing and beating and rinsing and bleaching
until they are cleaner than mine will ever be
(I have just started to wash in the river)
You tell me of the day when your brother was taken
Pulled from his wife's hands in front of his two small children
And found with a bullet wound that split his skull in two
Your sister speaks up
they were never the same.
We saw him, but kept the coffin closed.
No one is ever the same.
You tell me of the day that you heard he had returned,
rode out proclaiming,
and came back to hear that he was dead.
That when his father lifted his broken body,
his head fell to the dirt.
His father works to the bone now.
You came back to see his wife's house taken apart
and stacked at the side of the road,
as your people lost the light in their eyes and began to leave their land.
I remember that my jaw dropped when I heard your womb had never held a child.
You are a mother.
I know from your seven daughters who look nothing like each other,
and I know from your long arms and Sabbath greetings
and I know because you told me that you've never been able to stop cooking huge meals
just in case.
And I know, because you smoothed my back
and grated onion with sugar, and tied the poultice on,
and with your strident prayer, you took the hands and voice
that have been shaped by great pain,
and used them to heal a small pain,
but pain nonetheless.