- Graduation 1949
"I walk into the street and it comes to me."—Roy DeCarava
She is at the brink of something she cannot see.Out of the shadows comes the Chevrolet Bel Air—Style Star of an AllStar Line
And it's large and painted red though in the photo soft greyAnd seems to be made of lead. Where will it take her?
Her skirts are ringed with dirtThey rest on asphalt with trash blown over, fit entry to the underworld.
Her dress was bought for more money than she had—Rustling organza, flickering tulle, pouf sleeves
Pouring skirts, bodice pinched under tight breastsElbows hooked into white gloves.
What is tiny looms large, shadows start to sing.Out of the shadows comes the Chevrolet Bel Air.
Step away child from that Chevrolet car.What will your mother do without you?
You are one of three sisters, this I know,The middle one who cried herself to sleep.
Turning plain wool over and over in bare hands,Stroking the blue cotton dress in grandmother's closet—Harlem 1949.
You inherit a realm of shivering bottle caps,Boys playing stickball, girls at fountains where mad dogs bark. [End Page 29]
Rose hips glisten in a wintry park,A blind piano player shuffles into a jazz barAnother wipes spit from his lips with a bit of silk,Hoists a trumpet fit to blast out music for Resurrection Day.
Girl child in the too much shining dressYou drift into an empty lot on the upper reaches of Lexington.
Out of a heap of newsprint, bits and pieces of filthSprings the many headed narcissus, glistening flower with its hundred roots.
You turn in surprise,Lifting your skirts so the dirt will not hurt the hems.
We watch your face mirrored in a scentNo mother can save you from, or father rock you free—O Persephone. [End Page 30]
Meena Alexander was born in India and grew up there and in Sudan. She has published six volumes of poetry including Illiterate Heart (winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award). Forthcoming this fall is her new volume Birthplace with Buried Stones (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern UP, 2013). Her book of essays Poetics of Dislocation appeared in the Michigan Poets on Poetry Series. She has received awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Rockefeller foundations and the Arts Council of England. She is Distinguished Professor of English at CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College.