- Ethel’s Sestina and Company’s Coming
Ethel Freeman’s body sat for days in her wheelchair outside the New Orleans Convention Center. Her son Herbert, who had assured his mother that help was on the way, was forced to leave her there once she died.
Gon’ be obedient in this here chair,gon’ bide my time, fanning against this sun.I ask my boy, and all he says is Wait.He wipes my brow with steam, says I should sleep.I trust his every word. Herbert my son.I believe him when he says help gon’ come.
Been so long since all these suffrin’ folks cometo this place. Now on the ground ’round my chair,they sweat in my shade, keep asking my soncould that be a bus they see. It’s the sunfoolin’ them, shining much too loud for sleep,making us hear engines, wheels. Not yet. Wait.
Lawd, some folks prayin’ for rain while they wait,forgetting what rain can do. When it come,it smashes living flat, wakes you from sleep,eats streets, washes you clean out of the chairyou be sittin’ in. Best to praise this sun,shinin’ its dry shine. Lawd have mercy, son,is it coming? Such a strong man, my son.Can’t help but believe when he tells us, Wait.Wait some more. Wish some trees would block this sun.We wait. Ain’t no white men or buses come,but look—see that there? Get me out this chair,help me stand on up. No time for sleepin’,
Cause look what’s rumbling this way. If you sleepyou gon’ miss it. Look there, I tell my son.He don’t hear. I’m ’bout to get out this chair,but the ghost in my legs tells me to wait, [End Page 137] wait for the salvation that’s sho to come.I see my savior’s face ’longside that sun.
Nobody sees me running toward the sun.Lawd, they think I done gone and fell asleep.They don’t hear Come.
Come.Come.Come.Come.Come.Come.Ain’t but one power make me leave my son.I can’t wait, Herbert. Lawd knows I can’t wait.Don’t cry, boy, I ain’t in that chair no more.
Wish you coulda come on this journey, son,seen that ol’ sweet sun lift me out of sleep.Didn’t have to wait. And see my golden chair?
Hell, I rode the back of the last one.It was all they said it was, but I rode her good.The key to making it throughis to strap yourself hard against a thing,keep your mouth shut tightlest all that wrong weather gets in.She gon’ slap the black offa you now,don’t get me wrong, but that big fussdon’t last but a hot minute.Just lay yourself flat while ol’ girlpoints her chaos toward your upturned ass,just hold onto maybe while she blows awaywhat you thought would hold you down.Ain’t no feeling like the one when it’s all overand you still here. So go on, peek through the blinds.See a mad-ass woman with us in her eye?She picks her teeth with prayers. Get ready to stride. [End Page 138]
Patricia Smith is the author of six critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. A recognized force in the fields of poetry, playwriting, fiction, performance, and creative collaboration, she is also a 2014 Guggenheim fellow, a Cave Canem faculty member, a professor of English at the College of Staten Island, and a faculty member of the Sierra Nevada MFA program.
Editor’s Note: “Ethel’s Sestina” and “Company’s Coming,” from Blood Dazzler (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2008), are reprinted here by permission of the author.