The shadowed fists of horizon break
north of the Cuban sunset and Gitmo’s
just a plain of wind and doubt holding
back hungry and tired tides of current
fortune, policy in the making folded
tight as military corners, tighter than
the hard knot of your heart releasing
and compressing need and remembrance,
solitary pain of separation as a wife,
a son or daughter growing, swells
behind the jut of clouds forcing on
night, the flat slick sea listless and
void as that dark standard limp above
this armed camp, descending with each
plaintive note into the automatic motion
and sure hands which know no other way.
Bending back rigid branches, we disappear in the cave of green,
carpet of brittle question-mark leaves crackling with each step
we take toward the thick trunk. We hide together. Squeals and
calls echo around us as brothers and sisters, neighborhood friends
uncover “best” hiding places under bridges, beneath pine needles,
in bone-dry creek beds, secreted among squirrels’ nests in a slippery
elm. We back against gray bark, slick and muscled like skin,
gather leaves, the spiny remains left by blossoms gone to seed,
quilt fallen limbs over our own arms and legs. Wrapped close
in this blanket, we poke and prod each other with the hard fruit
of the magnolia, daring our laughter, our small pains and discomfort
to reveal us. The heavy sweet decay of last month’s white blossoms
fills every breath sneaking past our tight lips. We shiver off
centipedes and grubs twitching on shins and calves, tickling
the backs of thighs, traversing the smooth landscape of our bodies.
In these shadows we almost become one heartbeat, one whisper of lungs.
But we do not touch; we do not join; we do not turn and embrace
anything other than concealment. The magnolia is our cloak and
nothing more. We will slip away from its shadows and come out
when we hear the yell, “All’s free,” and we will forget about that tree.
I know the faces of hate that curl
around our passing like shell casings
hickory nuts shed each autumn twist
back into a hard knot of useless wrapping.
Wrecked-car, tar-paper neighborhood
where every other fence held back
a “white dog” nurtured on fury waiting
to unleash on any passing dark face.
Side by side we cannot pass out of sight
in enough of a hurry without these
small Southern towns turning sinister
as our past and present history—
classmates beside me in first grade asked
to pass along notes “encouraging”
their parents to consider “majority-minority
schools” less than a decade after Central High.
The Midwest was a heavy white blanket
we smothered beneath as an invisible novelty,
but in Little Rock the battle lines are as clear
as the faces of the children we pass by,
their small hands clinging to the dark or light
hand of the parent on watch, a mother
or father whose glance passing our direction
carries more knowing than either of us has.
It is not political nor politic, not temporary
nor ever likely to simply pass without some
notice, but when we intertwine our fingers
and walk together we give witness to lives
and a nation where so much depends upon
who you pass each night beside, what truth
lingers each morning in promises that dress
the bed tighter than any white sheet ever could.
Little jesuses on the water,
she says as she kisses the handful
of petals and tosses them
into the slow current.
The crosses hidden in the blossoms
spin and most catch and gather
behind the fallen log
damming the minnow pool.
Later she’ll take my hand,
hold it against her breast.
Count my heartbeats, she says,
and tell me what it means.