May 18, 2019

This Whiteness


Grandfather could so smoothly
pour his evening whiskey and slur
an n-word or five during Lawrence Welk
before the gentle nod off
in his 1950’s recliner green

Aunt would teach school children
and love them so, she said,
even the little black ones,
she said, and still speak of them
diminutively, and of their parents
dismissively, and end the day
with a refreshing front porch lemonade

Some ancestor in Massachusetts
fought for abolition and justice
and spoke of prophets Amos and Jesus
but never imagined in her
white mind wrapped in razor wire
a fullness in blackness,
a greatness, a she and he empowered,
a liberation of herself from her white self

And here I am attentive but in white fog
of my own insolence and actions
my crossing the streets of Chicago
when young black men approach
when I see the protests and riots and think
if you would just…if you could only…
when I make every effort for my white sons

and even writing this poem
and even writing that previous line
cannot end it, this whiteness,
this inherited shame and shamelessness
this enfolding in my brain of what
we ourselves, by our fault,
by our own fault,
by our own most grievous fault,
have wrought, have clung to white-knuckled,
have ignored in our beloveds,
have so blithely pruned from family trees
and cannot prune from ourselves

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