- After the Yelling Stopped, and: My Grandmother Could Wring a Chicken’s Neck, and: Somewhere East of Troost, and: Yard Work, and: Borrowed Brilliance, and: The Lynch Family Blues
After the Yelling Stopped
A strange relief fills me as I watch my father loading his car. Finally the yelling has stopped.
I am eight years old, cradling my two-year-old sister while tears collect in a pool underneath
my mother’s chin. She found out what wives hope to never discover and now our home is an open
wound. My father’s father, fifty years prior, rode one hundred fifty miles on a mule to Lincoln Institute,
the only place in Missouri where blacks could attend high school, and by the following year saved
enough money to send for my grandmother. Their marriage lasted for sixty-three years. Through
the window, I watch my father start the car. The crescent moon is a question mark punctuating
a sullen sky as the red glow of taillights disappear on the horizon like two malignant eyes closing.
My Grandmother Could Wring a Chicken’s Neck
at noon, use the blood that sprayed from his headless body to teach a lesson about Jesus and have it plucked, breaded and fried
before Granddaddy walked through the door at five. “Your grandfather is the only man I ever loved,” she once told me. The life she built
around him, like an ancient temple, drew admirers from distant shores. How I hoped to find a love like that. When she discovered, after sixty-three
years, that my grandfather had a daughter from a previous fling, the temple fell. Her heart became a rooster clawing her chest. By the time
Jesus was called in, she had already given up the ghost. Granddaddy followed close behind her, the stench of betrayal trailing him into the afterlife.
Somewhere East of Troost
I The crack house across from the daycare stays busy, officers cruise by. [End Page 706]
II Kids wait for the bus. Mothers watch for predators. Fathers aren’t around.
III Classrooms are cellblocks where windows overlook playgrounds vile as prison yards.
IV Young men bet futures on fleeting basketball dreams that bounce out of bounds.
V Broken homes collapse next to crowded liquor stores and empty churches.
VI Somewhere east of Troost bullets pierce the wrong targets wounds spill the wrong blood.
VII Like high school yearbooks obituary columns are filled with black youth.
I attempt to gather yellow, orange and red, as if colors could be contained. No matter how many neat piles I form, a countless number of stray leaves remain. Safe in my backyard on the edge of town where lawns are trimmed and everybody speaks, and the phrase, “It can’t happen here” resounds— my peace is shattered by thoughts of Malik. How he runs for his life down brutal blocks while young assassins steadily seek him out. Their guns are fully loaded, aimed, and cocked though they don’t recall what the fight’s about. And the leaves that are falling from the trees pile up like brown bodies on city streets.
for Charlie Parker
I was once ruled by my appetites too, man. Got so high one night I cried because I didn’t think anyone deserved to feel [End Page 707] that good. I know that constant need for stimulation, what it’s like to have your body ache for the very thing that will cause its destruction. But, I caught a break. . . found a way to kill the craving, to crucify the flesh, discovered a peace you will never know. And now, as I listen to KoKo, I hear you race through chords like a schizophrenic running when no one is chasing him. I want to meet you somewhere in the music, to borrow some of your brilliance for these poems I long to write. I hope, like a junkie whose friend has just scored, that you will be willing to share.
The Lynch Family Blues
After Lynch Family by Joseph Hirsch, 1946
Went out swingin’ last night, Baby, Hope you didn’t wait up for me. Said I was...