Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 190-191
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Word Problems *
Part 1: In the Family
If a train departs at 10:20pm
traveling south and another train
departs at 10:10pm headed north,
what time will it be when we finally
take haven in an indulgent bed
marooned in a multi-national hotel room
overlooking Central Park?
How many hours will it be before the edges
soften and we walk through the park, smile at
strangers we strongly assume to be
New Yorkers, sit in overpriced cafes,
sip international coffee drinks and cognac,
regard male nude portraits executed by
Sigmund Freud's grandson hanging in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art? What time shall we
return to room service remote and bourgeois bed
the dubious privilege of somebody else compelled
to make it? The next morning, exposed in our 1970's
campus-style Afro-American cultural nationalism,
we'll overtip the Third-World-Woman cleaning staff
then see each other off at Amtrak just in time to
make it back to our good jobs.
Somewhere between the maxed-out credit cards,
mini-bar and starched linens, two grown colored women
inscribe a story. It's a story some brother with an agenda
declared didn't exist due to inauthenticity. Some sister
with self-induced amnesia, claimed not to be able to read
between the lines, had no idea what we were talking about.
Some white woman declared the story interchangeable
with hers and some white man reported it was not in evidence;
we'd never crossed his mind. [End Page 190]
Yet, here we are: the last generation
raised by 19th-century women, the link between
our great-grandmothers in bondage and our
daughters in cyberspace. No wonder
we're standing here wondering; inhabitants of a land
everybody wants to occupy, but nobody wants to imagine.
As our daughters and sons set out on the
MTV artificial intelligence information superhighway
we haunt the crossroads. We're on the watch to pass them
a few books, a few photos, a few stories, a few words;
a broach, a piece of cloth, a song, a prayer,
a pressed flower; a feather, a shell and a bone.
We maintain that the elite have nothing going for them
except money technology and gall, all the while
hedging our bets: Got to learn those computers.
You'll go to that private school if I have my say.
We just can't risk stranding our children in that
so-called underclass we used to call home.
But like I said, there's nothing disembodied,
not what I'm talking about.
Sign your name. Turn off that television.
This ain't one of those nihilistic movements
lit by the despairing blue light of the tube.
There's nothing to lose we haven't lost more times
than we thought possible. This time I won't hesitate or wait.
If we're lucky we'll get a corner room high enough to
catch a glimpse of the moon to remind us of other shores.
Out on some Nina or Coltrane,
Find Abby Lincoln on the FM stereo.
Incense, candle flame, papaya and cowry shell
mark the boundaries. This body is home.
Look here. This is the lush life, only for a minute.
Your train is traveling
south at 73 miles per hour.
Mine is headed north doing 68.
How long will it take us to arrive at
our separate definitions?
What time shall we begin, for real?
What time can we call it home?
Kate Rushin is the author of The Black Back-Ups (Firebrand Books) and is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor and Visiting Writer in African American Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where she teaches a poetry workshop and courses on Black literature.
* An earlier version of this poem appeared in the Exact Change Yearbook, 1995. Printed by permission of the author.